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Refurbished Smartphones Fight E-Waste

by Ken Hyers | Oct 14, 2022

Today is International E-Waste Day – it falls on October 14 every year.  So says the WEEE Forum.  We’re usually fairly skeptical of these special event days.  Did you know that the first Sunday of September each year is National Pet Rock Day?  And the third Sunday of each July is National Ice Cream Day?  And … well, you get the idea.

But maybe International E-Waste Day is a good idea.  E-waste is a big deal.  According to WEEE more than 24.5 million tons of small e-waste (consumer electronics) were produced worldwide in 2019, accounting for 40% of all e-waste around the world.  The organization estimates that in 2022 around 5.3 billion mobile phones will become e-waste – an estimate that appears to be based on the cumulative new phone sales from the prior three years and an assumption that since the average phone is replaced every three years (actually closer to four years now) they’ll all end up in the dump or stashed in closets or the back of drawers.

 All is not as bad as that though.  More and more people are turning in their old phones when they upgrade to a new one.  And many of those phones are being refurbished or recycled.  We estimate that 75% of all phones turned in can be refurbished (though it may not always be economical to do so, given considerations such as age of the device and damage to it).  Those that are not able to be refurbished can be recycled, which allows for the retrieval of important metals like copper, gold, silver and other materials.  Importantly, those parts that are recycled don’t end up in the landfill, and instead potentially end up in new smartphones.

Refurbished Smartphone Sales 2022

Refurbished smartphones are the sharp end of the stick.  These devices, rather than being torn down, can be repaired and see a second life with a new user.  Strategy Analytics estimates more than a quarter billion refurbished smartphones will be sold worldwide in 2022.  This is up from just a couple of years ago when just 200 million were sold.  And looking forward we estimate the number will grow to 400 million before the end of the decade. 

Demand for refurbished smartphones is growing, in just about every part of the world.  Economic conditions are one driver of refurbished smartphone sales.  With inflation, energy and food prices skyrocketing, more consumers (and some employers) are looking to buy refurbished as a more affordable way to replace their current, older smartphones.  And as the price of premium smartphones continue to steadily increase, many consumers are looking to upgrade to a better smartphone by buying a refurbished one rather than a new one.

Industry is taking note.  Major smartphone OEMs like Samsung and Apple have programs to refurbish and make available certified refurbished devices.  Operators are taking in old devices in exchange when they sell new ones, and then working with industry to refurbish those devices.  Some operators, like Orange, are making these devices available to their customers.  

Refurbished smartphones are increasingly regarded as a smart choice by consumers, both helping their pocketbooks and the environment.  Younger consumers are particularly interested in refurbished smartphones.  There is a huge opportunity here for the smartphone industry to meet consumer demand, help the environment and build relationships with customers that will keep them returning.  Refurbished phones are a win-win-win for everyone.

Clients of Strategy Analytics Device Technologies service can learn more about refurbished devices in the reports Global Refurbished Devices Forecast to 2027 and Analysis: Global Refurbished Devices Forecast to 2027.

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