Smartphone recycling: the sector still has steps to take

Under pressure from the heavy environmental impact, the smartphone market has pledged to increase recycling and refurbishment. Where is the sector and what are the prospects? State of play, on the occasion of the Mobile World Fair in Barcelona (MWC).

Where is the industry?

After a difficult start in the early 2010s, the sector has undergone a marked acceleration in recent years, both in terms of reconditioning (repair of used appliances) and recycling of components (metals, rare earths, plastics, etc.) .

According to Persistence Market Research, 11% of devices sold worldwide are refurbished. a rate “lower than other electronic products” Nevertheless ” rising “thanks to the progress made in the field of collection and repair, this company underlines.

“More and more players are setting up recycling programs due to regulatory and consumer pressure”in abundance Thomas Husson, analyst at Forrester. “We still have low rates, but it’s starting to rise.”

Progress remains insufficient for environmental associations. “Only 20% of electronic waste is recycled”Claudia Bosch remembers of the Catalan NGO Setem, which “mobile social conference” parallel to the MWC. “We could do a lot more”keeps them full.

What are the actors?

Numerous companies have emerged in the recycling niche in recent years, such as the resale site Back Market, the manufacturer of “ethical” phones Fairphone, or Recommerce, a company specializing in second-hand devices.

A sign that the market is lively: the smartphone giants have started reconditioning themselves. Apple and Samsung have pledged to increase the proportion of recycled materials in their devices and now have their own recycling channels.

“The ability to recycle smartphones has become an important issue for all manufacturers, but also for operators”insists Thomas Husson. “There are visual questions that are at stake, everyone is trying to distinguish themselves”.

In Barcelona, ​​the British group Vodafone has announced a partnership with Recommerce to promote the recovery of old devices. The French Orange had committed last year to increase the share of refurbished telephones in its stores from 2% to 10%.

What are the prospects?

According to experts, the sector should experience strong growth, driven by growing consumer demand for “green” products and the slowdown in innovation in the smartphone market, making second-hand products more attractive.

According to research firm Mordor Intelligence, the market for refurbished smartphones should grow by 10% per year by 2027, with a notable breakthrough in the Asian market – particularly in India and Indonesia.

An analysis shared by Persistence Market Research, which expects recycled laptop sales to grow from $49.9 billion in 2020 (€44.9 billion) to $143.8 billion in 2031 (€128.8 billion) over the next ten years. euros).

Are there any brakes?

Even if the outlook is positive, several hurdles still weigh on the industry, including technical hurdles related to waste collection. For recycling to be effective, you need a “heavy organization”, emphasizes Thomas Husson.

But the main obstacles are cultural. “More and more refurbished phones are sold with a warranty. But there is still concern among consumers, who have doubts about the performance of the product.”the analyst recalls.

The commercial practices of manufacturers and operators themselves are not always favorable to reconditioning. “There is a culture” consists of “Relentlessly bombarding consumers with new offerings and innovations”to push them to “change their devices”regrets Claudia Bosch.

A paradoxical strategy given the environmental message of the giants of the sector. “If you’re really concerned about the planet, you have to bet on the durability of the product. But this goes against the dominant economic model.based on a “regular renewal of devices, often subsidized by operators”Thomas Husson recalls.


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