Mobile device recycling: aiding the planet and your bottom line


On the eve of Earth Day 2014, many CIOs may be wondering what they can do to help the IT department, and the organization overall, be a better environmental steward when it comes to technology. One easy solution is a mobile device recycling program.

Bashar Nejdawi, a 30-year veteran of the telecommunication and mobility industry and the current president for Ingram Micro North America Mobility (formerly BrightPoint, Inc.), recently spoke with FierceCIO about how such programs work. As Nejdawi reveals, a company can quickly and significantly aid both the environment and their own bottom line by implementing a mobile device recycling program.

David Weldon, FierceCIO: Many companies look for opportunities to celebrate Earth Day in an unusual or non-traditional way. You mentioned the idea of device return programs as being a great way to help in this capacity. Please explain how device return programs work?

Bashar Nejdawi, President of Micro North America Mobility: Most commonly, device return programs are hosted in-store either by a mobile carrier (such as Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon) or a retailer like Best Buy. Consumers can simply walk on in, deposit the old or used mobile device into a box and redeem some compensation from recycling it.

From there, the carrier or retailer ships those devices off to a company to handle the recovery process. The goal here is to extract the most value possible from devices--whether that be through triage and repair or recycling.

The first step in determining whether a device will be refurbished or recycled is to inspect whether its components are dead-on-arrival. If the device is unable to be refurbished, it will be broken down into its component parts and valuable materials are salvaged and re-sold. Other materials are safely recycled.

Should it warrant a second life, all user data will first be securely wiped from the device. Next, the device will be repaired, including the installation of new software and components, refurbishing its physical appearance, and re-kitting in a new box. The device is then ready to be re-stocked or re-sold to consumers and will be able to recoup value as a refurbished device.

Recovery is an extremely important part of the mobile device lifecycle for environmental and business reasons. For one carrier, Ingram Micro Mobility cut the inventory of aged devices by 50 percent and increased the utilization of refurbished devices by 91 percent to date.

FierceCIO: How popular are device return programs currently, and what types of companies are participating?

Bashar Nejdawi: Over the past year, we have seen many more carriers and companies running trade-in, swapping and upgrade programs. For the carriers, they see this as a way to provide a better customer experience. As mentioned before, all of the major carriers already have these programs in place, as well as many retailers.

And this doesn't only apply to mobile devices--more companies in general are investing additional time and money into developing corporate sustainability programs in an effort to further green business models. Consumers are also pushing for these programs as it allows them to recoup some of the money spent on the device in an ethical way. Today's consumers expect the companies they do business with to operate in an ethical way, while providing them with choices for a lower cost refurbished replacement.

FierceCIO: You mentioned that Ingram Micro Mobility is currently processing more than 10,000 returned devices every day. What exactly does the reprocessing involve?

Bashar Nejdawi: I spoke about it in simple terms, but the process of handling reverse logistics requires a lot of technological management and IT process expertise. Devices need to be tracked and managed right from the get-go and followed throughout the entire lifecycle until each device reaches the stage where it's ready to either be repaired or recycled.

There are also levels of certification that need to be met throughout the process, such as the certification of component parts by device manufacturers. This process is often rigorous, as manufacturers want to ensure the parts that are being put back in their devices can be billed as quality components. Companies like Ingram Micro Mobility with expertise in device recovery have these necessary certifications in place.

FierceCIO: Do such programs involve employer-provider devices, employee-owned devices or a combination of the two?

Bashar Nejdawi: Device recovery programs can accept either type of device as the procedure of wiping personal and sensitive data securely will still remain the same. If a company sets up its own device recovery program, they may have their internal IT department handle the data wipe process before the devices make it to the next stage.

FierceCIO: What are the financial advantages to participation in a device return program?

Bashar Nejdawi: What we commonly refer to as e-waste is actually not waste at all, as device equipment and parts are usually able to be remarketed or recycled for materials recovery. Mobile devices are assets similar to cars and can be disassembled, recycled, and smelted down into precious metals (such as gold and silver), which can be valued quite highly. In fact, for every one million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered (EPA).

With more than 1.5 million smartphones activated each day, there is a lot of hidden value sitting in desk drawers and under car seats. Many consumers and companies don't even realize the trade-in value of all of these old devices is worth as much as $34 billion. To put that into perspective, you could buy more than 29,500 McLaren P1 supercars, one of the world's most expensive cars at $1.15 million each, with those savings.

FierceCIO: What are the ecological advantages to participation in a device return program?

Bashar Nejdawi: The ecological advantages to participating in device return programs are massive. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the U.S. and it's one of the biggest threats to our environment today, according to the EPA. For each device that is repaired, refurbished or harvested for reclaimed parts is one less device that winds up in a landfill. Instead, this device is shipped out as "new" into the market. Tons of metal and other unrecyclable waste can be saved from harming the environment through these programs.

Although e-waste only represents a small portion of our trash in landfills, it equals about 70 percent of overall toxic waste, releasing lead into the earth or in the air, which can cause damage to our nervous systems, blood and kidneys. Since manufacturing these devices from scratch requires a lot of energy consumption, recovering devices for reuse is less taxing and uses less energy.