Old Cell Phones: Trash or Trea­sure?

Old Cell Phones:

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Li Zhuoxi

“Ihave five old cell phones at home that I don’t know what to do with,” groans Mr. Zhu from Beijing. “I thought about sell­ing them, but the price small shops of­fered was too low.” Deal­ing with out­dated phones has be­come a per­plex­ing headache for many.

Statis­tics from the China Academy of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy (CAICT) show that 1,446 dif­fer­ent mod­els of mo­bile phones were re­leased in China in 2016, and the do­mes­tic ship­ments to­taled 560 mil­lion in the same pe­riod, ac­count­ing for a third of global ship­ment vol­ume. Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers, be­cause the sale of ev­ery new cell phone means that an old one will be dis­carded, about four to five hun­dred mil­lion un­used phones will pile up in China an­nu­ally over the next few years. In fact, over a bil­lion cell phones have al­ready been dis­carded. Fig­ur­ing out how to deal with so many old mo­bile phones has be­come an in­creas­ingly press­ing dilemma.

Where Do Old Phones Go?

With the fast devel­op­ment of mo­bile phone tech­nol­ogy, the av­er­age life­span of a cell phone has dropped. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 sur­vey, about half of China’s mo­bile phone users changed to a new one ev­ery 18 months.

How­ever, com­pared to the rock­et­ing sales of new phones, the vol­ume of old phones that get re­cy­cled re­mains much lower. Only two per­cent of old phones are re­cy­cled. Most end up in land­fills.

Dis­carded cell phones have ac­tu­ally be­come a se­vere waste of re­sources. Ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal an­a­lysts, about 150 grams of gold can be ex­tracted from ev­ery ton of old mo­bile phones. If 200 mil­lion cell phones are dis­carded ev­ery year at a weight of about 20,000 tons, re­cy­cling of all those phones would pro­duce three tons of gold and 60 tons of sil­ver.

Com­po­nents of old cell phones in­clud­ing cir­cuit boards, bat­ter­ies, speak­ers, cam­eras and mi­cro­phones all con­tain pre­cious met­als. And cam­eras can be dis­as­sem­bled from old phones and reused in other de­vices. More­over, plas­tic cas­ings, screens, ear­phones and charg­ers can all be re­cy­cled.

Mean­while, the pre­cious met­als con­tained in dis­carded cell phones can harm the en­vi­ron­ment. If those phones are burned, poi­sonous gas con­tain­ing car­cino­genic mat­ter will likely be emit­ted.

Hid­den “Golden Mine”

In spite of the great quan­tity, high value, and high risks of in­ap­pro­pri­ate disposal, no great shift to re­cy­cling has ever hap­pened. Many worry that their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion will be at risk if their cell phones get re­cy­cled be­cause the de­vices carry a large amount of in­for­ma­tion.

And the re­cy­cling value of a sin­gle old cell phone is not very at­trac­tive. Re­gard­less of the price of the phone, the cost of the ma­te­rial is al­ways lower than US$200, with the rest of the costs go­ing to re­search,

devel­op­ment and pro­mo­tion. When cell phones are re­cy­cled by en­ter­prises, they are usu­ally dis­as­sem­bled and the most valu­able met­als ex­tracted. Not much value re­mains with the de­vice whether it func­tions or not and the re­cy­cling re­turns are quite low.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers also dread the heavy la­bor re­quired to take apart phones. They don’t want to pay the cost of re­cy­cling and proper disposal of the haz­ardous com­po­nents. Many cell phone mak­ers couldn’t stay prof­itable if disposal was part of the equa­tion.

“In­ter­net Plus” Breaths New Life into Old Phones

Given this sit­u­a­tion, many com­pa­nies aim­ing at re­cy­cling old cell phones through the in­ter­net, big data, O2O and other meth­ods have been launched. Ai­huishou is a lead­ing com­pany in re­cy­cling cell phones.

On De­cem­ber 21, 2016, Ai­huishou re­ceived se­ries D fund­ing of 400 mil­lion yuan (about US$60 mil­lion). It is al­ready see­ing prof­its. The com­pany fo­cuses on re­cy­cling elec­tronic prod­ucts in­clud­ing cell phones, lap­tops and dig­i­tal cam­eras. And it uses a new, dif­fer­ent model to in­ject new life into the tra­di­tional re­cy­cling busi­ness. In the age of the mo­bile in­ter­net, Ai­huishou has be­come the largest C2B (Cus­tomer to Busi­ness) re­cy­cling and treat­ment plat­form in China.

Ai­huishou gets busi­nesses to bid on re­cy­cling. Its to­tal vol­ume of trans­ac­tions has reached 50 mil­lion yuan (about US$7.4 mil­lion) and around 100,000 elec­tronic prod­ucts have been re­cy­cled. At present, its daily trans­ac­tion vol­ume av­er­ages over 300, while the price of an or­der av­er­ages around 700 yuan (about US$104). The com­pany now makes ends meet.

Ac­cord­ing to Chen Xue­feng, pres­i­dent of Ai­huishou, most cus­tomers still pre­fer to go to brick-and-mor­tar shops to sell their old prod­ucts. For ex­am­ple, of 100 cus­tomers, only 40 choose to mail the old phones. And of 100 prod­ucts mailed, the de­scrip­tions of about 60 to 70 matched the true sit­u­a­tions, in which case money is re­leased to the seller. In other cases, the buyer has to talk to the seller to rene­go­ti­ate the price. Al­though mail­ing saves op­er­a­tional costs, the hid­den costs of lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and poor cus­tomer experience are even higher.

The plat­form’s prof­its can be cred­ited to mul­ti­ple chan­nels of treat­ment for the re­cy­cled phones. Some of the phones they re­ceive are to­tally scrapped. Th­ese phones are handed over to re­cy­cling in­sti­tu­tions with en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion li­cens­ing, which ex­pertly dis­as­sem­ble them and ex­tract the pre­cious met­als. Some phones are still par­tially func­tional. The func­tional com­po­nents are re­moved and re­pur­posed as re­place­ment parts. Others are rel­a­tively new mod­els with per­fect func­tion­al­ity and only a few scratches. Th­ese are sold on its own plat­form or Jd.com, a pop­u­lar e-com­merce plat­form in China.

Ac­cord­ing to in­com­plete statis­tics, around 20 per­cent of phones re­cy­cled by Ai­huishou are resold, 50 per­cent are bid on by re­cy­cling in­sti­tu­tions and 30 per­cent are disposed of in an en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly man­ner.

“At first, we just wanted to cre­ate the cir­cu­lar econ­omy for elec­tronic prod­ucts and make the most use of those prod­ucts,” ex­plained Chen. “But the goal of the com­pany has changed to align with the devel­op­ment of the mar­ket. All our ef­forts serve the purpose of chang­ing users’ opin­ions on re­cy­cling and the re­cy­cling in­dus­try. Ai­huishou has al­ways en­deav­ored to pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion through busi­ness and change our fu­ture liv­ing space.”

A worker dis­as­sem­bles dis­carded elec­tronic prod­ucts in Shan­tou City, Guang­dong Prov­ince. VCG

Septem­ber 15, 2016: Cus­tomers in a phys­i­cal shop of Ai­huishou in Beijing are in­tro­duced the process of re­cy­cling cell phones. IC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.