Smartphone Contribution To Ever-Growing E-Waste & The Road Ahead


This one will get your attention! Have you ever heard of e-waste? I have interviewed Erik Hohmann from Galaxy eSolutions about smartphones and electronic waste to find out more about this fascinating topic.

Q. You’ve been in the mobile tech industry for a while. Could you share how smartphones contribute to the ever-growing amount of e-waste?

Smartphones haven’t been around for a very long time, so they don’t take up a large slice of the entire e-waste pie – yet. But judging by current trends regarding smartphone shipments and the number of new smartphones manufactured and shipped globally, that’s about to change, and sooner than anyone thinks.

For perspective, some 183 million smartphones were sold last year in the US alone. Couple that with the fact that more than 50% of smartphone users around the world have brand-new phones, most of which will be e-waste just five years down the line. And all of this doesn’t even factor in unique situations like Samsung dumping some 4.7 million useless, unrecyclable smartphones after its Galaxy Note 7 recall, and the fact that not even 10% of all brand- new smartphones make it to recycling. So sure, smartphones may not be a big problem now, but I won’t be surprised if it made up 30% to 40% of the entire e-waste stream by 2030.

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Q. What is your opinion on the growing market for second-hand smartphones in different parts of the world?

Not too long ago, we saw the smartphone become a mainstream market in much of the developed world. That has led to some pretty amazing things, but in many ways, that industry has hit the ceiling. Premium phones today don’t have anything groundbreaking to offer except little upgrades in power and performance, and a great deal of “innovation” done on flagships is mostly aesthetic, to say nothing of the e-waste issue.

Q. But that doesn’t stop Original Equipment Manufacturers – OEMs – from charging premium rates for their flagships, like Apple selling the entry-level version of their iPhone X for $1,000.

The used smartphone market is rapidly growing the market with a growth rate that’s four to five times higher than the smartphone market itself. And if you see how cheap second-hand smartphones go – somewhere around USD 150 on average – it’s easy to understand why.

For the past few years, refurbished smartphone sales worldwide are doubling every two years, and the growth rate is much higher for emerging markets. It’s not that hard to see why the used smartphone market has been estimated to grow as much as USD 30 billion just a few years from now in 2020.

Q. Could you tell us what drives the current popularity of affordable/refurbished smartphones today? Do you see this trend continuing in the future?

Many surveys have identified cost as the leading consideration among consumers worldwide as far as smartphone purchases go. First off, second-hand premium smartphones often have a much lower average selling prices than the cheapest brand new models of name-brand companies. Next, most of the second-hand phones in circulation in the market right now are only 1 to 2 years old, meaning they are not that much behind regarding specs and features.

Finally, while the smartphone market is becoming less accessible due to price, the second-hand smartphone market is breaking down economic and technological barriers by providing people who previously couldn’t buy or upgrade to premium phones access to affordable, internet-enabled handsets. And that has significant advantages, especially in emerging markets where the majority of populations are comprising of low to middle-income households.

The high affordability of second-hand smartphones has immense benefits for markets like Africa and India, where price is a significant barrier to access to smartphones. It also goes with the fact that many people all around the world are growing aware of the impact that they are making on the environment, so they choose to adopt environmentally friendly or recycled products.

Q. Could you share some concrete examples how a user can benefit from that?

In emerging markets like Africa, having access to the internet can mean the difference between having a job or unemployment. In Africa, poverty and unemployment are persistent issues, and people traditionally had to rely on their small network of connections locally to find employment or part-time work. With internet access, however, they have a much more extensive system to depend on for employment opportunities, or even discover online jobs if they have the right skills.

And that’s the thing: before, you can only access the internet using a PC or some other kind of computer in Africa. But now, you have smartphones that you can use to access the web at your convenience. What’s more, access to the internet through smartphones overcomes other logistical difficulties in the region, including the complications brought about by failed governments, political instability, and natural disasters. One of the significant impacts this can make is the betterment of education systems in Africa, for small children.

Q. As you are working on an exciting ICO about reducing global e-waste, could you tell what is e-waste, what problems does it create for the society and how it can impact the world?

Right. E-waste is electronic waste where electrical appliances and devices are discarded and dumped. I believe I’ve already mentioned how current retail and consumption trends point to smartphones becoming a significant portion of the total e-waste stream a few decades down the line.

However, only a tiny percentage of that is recycled, due in part to companies like Apple that actively discourage users from repairing or even just using their phones for a long time. Planned obsolescence in smartphones is especially prevalent today, with OEMs using sensitive and brittle parts that either break easily or wear out in a couple of years. It forces people to upgrade, and that means more profit for these big companies.

Eventually starting an ICO is a way to say no to that trend. If you don’t do anything now, it’s the third generation from now that will have to deal with all the e-waste we’ll be leaving behind. And that’s not a legacy anyone wants to leave behind.

By capitalizing on current user trends and selling high quality refurbished smartphones, you can make a difference by becoming a market leader in the industry and slowing the growth of the global e-waste stream. This way, each premium smartphone created will have four to five more users before being retired, and that makes smartphone consumption more sustainable. But that’s not the only benefit to be gleaned from our model.

By marketing to regions with high demand for cheap smartphones – a bracket that’s continually expanding – it’s possible to help people gain access to internet-enabled handsets that they can use to enrich their professional, personal and educational lives.

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