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Why Recycling Our Mobile Devices Is Critical

The Circular Economy: How To Reduce, Reuse, Recover, and Recycle

Mobile Devices, Mobile Strategy Comments (1)

In the face of growing concern for depleting resources, environmental deterioration, and the use of non-renewable energy sources, the concept of a “circular economy” is taking hold around the world. The concept refers to a move away from the “take-make-dispose” pattern of manufacturing of products and to a “reduce, reuse, recover, and recycle” strategy, and is seen as “a potential way for our society to increase prosperity, while reducing dependence on primary materials and energy.”

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a strong advocate group for this idea,

“A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the ‘end-of-life’ concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and, within this, business models.”

While it is a few years old, an economic analysis of the impact of recycling and reuse of mobile phones by the foundation is an eye-opener about what a difference this would make. The environmental impact of the present “linear economy” of manufacturing and disposal of mobile devices is huge; an enterprise mobility strategy that potentially mitigates this impact would an important contribution to solving this problem.

With more than 2 billion mobile phones in use in the world at present, and the fact that an average user replaces their phone every 11 to 18 months, the negative environmental impact of the mobile revolution is only growing. Studies have shown that around 40-50% of the environmental impact of mobile phones occurs during the manufacture of their printed wiring boards and integrated circuits. The other end of the cycle is the disposal of millions of mobile devices. Jonas Allen, director of marketing for the Green Electronics Council, notes, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans disposed of more than 152 million mobile phones in 2010. That translates to approximately 350,000 phones per day.” The problem has only grown worse since then.

Dell is one company that is advocating for a circular economy based on the elimination of waste, and the continual reuse of available materials. “That includes embracing a circular economy where all materials are valuable and the concept of ‘waste’ is designed out of the system.”

Virtualization, for example, enables enterprises and service providers to make the most of their available computing resources while eliminating unnecessary hardware. Mobile virtualization is good for security, and it’s also good for the environment because it uses shared server resources, and therefore less physical hardware. “Virtualization is another way our customers can extend their technology without taking on new resources,” Dell points out, “Migrating physical servers to virtual ones and consolidating can lower monthly power and cooling costs and reduce the whole data center footprint, delaying or even eliminating the need to build new facilities.”

Businesses in Europe seem the most advanced in terms of embracing the concept of a circular economy. The Green Alliance in the UK says that:

“89 percent of mobile devices in the U.S. were thrown into landfill in 2010, even though the resources they contain mean it is economically sensible to recycle them. Many millions of usable devices are left forgotten in drawers once their owners upgrade, despite a robust second-hand market. This wastes perfectly good devices, frustrates consumers and harms the environment.”

Just keeping a smartphone in use for an additional year cuts its CO2 impact by 31 percent, the Green Alliance found. And, the second-hand device market for mobile phones is already worth $3 billion per year in the U.S., so there is already a ready alternative to disposing of unwanted devices.

The European Business Review lists 3 exemplary business practices for supporting a circular economy: waste reduction, servitization (moving from products to shared use of resources through a services model), and broadening or lengthening the amount of time products are used (or reused).

The bottom line? Singapore-based NCS (part of Singtel) argues that the circular economy “can spur innovation to increase productivity, improve materials/technologies, resource utilization, energy efficiencies, and more profit or engagement with companies.”

When drawing up an enterprise mobility management strategy, including innovative practices that support the circular economy makes a lot of sense.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. He Gary Woodill is a senior analyst for Float Mobile Learning. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On April 27, 2016
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