Smartphones and the circular economy

January 31, 2020 //By Neil Ballinger
circular economy
What do you do with your old smartphone when you no longer need it? Chances are, you keep it. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), 45 per cent of UK households have two to five unused electronic devices at home.

With new smartphone releases becoming even more regular, consumers are feeling pressured to upgrade to the latest device. It’s not just that. Smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung and Apple, have been fined for planned obsolescence, offering software updates that damage the performances of their devices to encourage customers to buy new phones.

The side effect of these factors is the approximately 40 million unused gadgets lying in the cupboard and drawers of British people’s homes. As well as smartphones, a quarter of respondents to the RSC survey had kept an unused laptop. In many cases they were kept as spares, some were waiting to be sold and some people just didn’t know how to recycle their e-waste. One of the major problems with people hoarding their electronics is the depletion of precious metals like tantalum, indium and yttrium. Recycling these elements would lead to less depletion of natural resources and would also mean that the device did not go to landfill.


Components and the circular economy

Just like the smartphone market, technological innovation in manufacturing has sped up and has shortened product lifecycles so that industrial professionals feel pressured to buy more technology for the factory floor. When a component breaks down, you can tap into either the linear economy of take, make, use and dispose, or the circular economy. Imagine your motor stops working, because an electric surge damages the components. The linear approach to this scenario is to throw away your old model and buy a shiny new replacement. The circular approach would be to send your broken equipment to a recycler, who can disassemble it and recycle the parts. If your motor is not too damaged, you could send it for refurbishment or re-manufacture, so that it can go to a new and happy home.

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