Consumers are hungry for the latest and greatest, and new products are phasing out old ones at a faster rate than ever. That's led to a lot of devices lying fallow in millions of junk drawers in this country. Nowhere are the "three Rs"--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle--more relevant than with respect to mobile devices.
That's where eRecyclingCorps (eRC), a global provider of carrier-grade wireless device trade-in and reuse programs, comes into play. Just last week the company announced that it completed more than 1.1 million secure wireless device trade-ins in May 2013, which it boasts as an industry record for device collections in a single month.
What's interesting about that number is that the face of device recycling is changing. As smartphone adoption continues to increase, incentivized trade-ins are starting to gain on raw recycling of antiquated feature phones.
David Edmondson, CEO of eRC, notes that his company has seen more than 270 percent increase in total device trade-ins compared with May 2012 and more than a 300 percent increase in total device trade-ins for smartphones annually.
Edmondson said the growth in trade-in activity for smartphones indicates that consumers are always on the lookout for the next great feature. When the company started working with Sprint back in 2010 it was basically 1.5 out of every 10 transactions were resulting in a trade in.
"The last thing Sprint said publicly was that that number is now in the mid-forties, so nearly one out of every two people are trading in their device," Edmondson said.
Edmondson attributes his company's success to the fact that eRC has enabled wireless operators which sell the majority of new phones to integrate the trade-in process into their point of sale. At this point, eRc's program is available at well over 12,000 doors around the world.
Before trade-in programs took hold, Edmondson says, nearly all device sales were three dimensional. The OEM wanted to sell the device for a certain amount, the carrier would subsidize the device, and the consumer was willing to pay anywhere from $0 to the full price of the device. Incentivized trade-ins have added a fourth dimension.
"The OEM still wants $800. The operator's still subsidizing by $500 and the customer's still paying $299, except that when they trade their phone in, they are recapturing the residual value of their device to reduce the $299," Edmondson says.
Considering that mobile devices are the largest source of eWaste in the world, Edmondson says it's irresponsible for the industry not to think about changing its approach to recycling, whether that's through raw recycling or trade-in programs. Edmondson points specifically to the developed world, where devices become obsolete based solely on perception in light of newer models, as having a chance to make an impact.
"The continuing use of those devices in other parts of the world creates economic prosperity in the developing world that is phenomenal," Edmondson said. "These are devices that by just throwing them in a drawer and not recirculating them, we're actually depriving people of a technology that is life changing."