Recycling used mobile phones

The forgotten treasure at the back of the drawer

When they buy a new mobile phone, half of the Swiss population sets aside their old device. But as the world’s raw materials for new devices slowly dwindle, they are becoming more coveted items. Swisscom is involved with two schemes that raise awareness and money – not only for the users, but also for children in need.

Roger Baur, 5 December 2017

Although devoted little attention by the public at large, the subject is hotly discussed among experts: how many smartphones can the Earth still yield? It takes more than 50 materials to make a mobile phone, some of which are only left in very short supply on our planet, including those known as “rare earths”. The extraction of others, though plentiful, consumes a great deal of energy. As mobiles and smartphones become more common, so the need for sustainable solutions like recycling becomes more urgent. Yet of all people, the most frequent smartphone users share a surprising reluctance, as revealed by the most recent JAMESfocus survey. This annual survey analyses the media behaviour of young Swiss people. In 2017, it focused on attitudes towards sustainability.

Low sustainability: not even half of the young people in Switzerland recycle their old phones. Picture: Keystone

It found that, on average, young people in Switzerland replace their smartphones every 1.9 years. Yet not even half of them give their old model a second chance. So even people of tender years amass quite a collection of old devices. The authors of the JAMESfocus survey have calculated that young Swiss people alone are sitting on half a million unused mobiles. Include the grey zone of older users not taken into account and there must be millions of devices in Switzerland banished to oblivion in cellars, cupboards and drawers. As Swisscom’s sustainability expert Marius Schlegel explains: “We are passing up a huge opportunity of easily doing something that makes a difference for a healthier environment. And our complacency increases the risk that one day we won’t have new smartphones or that they will be beyond our means.” His team has been working for years on solutions to seek out these hidden treasures. Marius Schlegel laughs: “Many people really don’t realise just how much money they are throwing away. A two-year old device is still worth a lot. And handing in an ancient mobile is still worthwhile, even if there is no financial benefit.”
So Swisscom has two schemes to save devices from their undeserved fate: customers can simply sell their old device using the “Mobile Bonus”. Swisscom’s engineers have developed an online tool which calculates how much a device is still worth.

“Recycling gives us all the chance to do a lot of good,” says sustainability expert Marius Schlegel.

“Then all you have to do is send in the device and collect the cash. A two-year old iPhone is worth up to CHF 300,” explains Marius Schlegel. Another scheme that rescues these mobile phones from oblivion is “Mobile Aid”: through this scheme, all revenue Swisscom generates from old devices is donated to SOS Childrens’ Villages.
Either way, Swisscom sends all the devices it receives to “Réealiseé”, an organisation that specialises in reintegrating income support recipients into working life. Firstly, the organisation deletes all personal data. Once scrupulously reconditioned, all working devices are resold as second-hand mobile phones – the remainder is recycled by Solenthaler Recycling, a company in Eastern Switzerland, that also cooperates with a non-profit company. Recycling lets the raw materials and metals be reused in a new life cycle. “And here absolutely every device counts, no matter how old or defective it is,” adds Marius Schlegel. So old devices can either be donated in any Swisscom Shop or combined with the “Mobile Bonus” cash-in scheme: once the customer calculates the value of their device via Mobile Bonus, they can either give all or part of the sum to “Mobile Aid”, thus making a donation to SOS Children’s Villages. Marius Schlegel: “This gives us all the chance to do a lot of good, both for children in need and to preserve nature.” All you need to do is reach into those drawers and dusty boxes. You might even find it fun, says Marius Schlegel with a grin. “After all, every device evokes lots of memories for us. Going over them again can be quite an experience.”

National mobile phone collection days

Swisscom staged a nationwide Mobile Aid collection campaign on December 6 and 7. More than 120 volunteers, from trainees to the CEO, will be collecting as many unused mobile phones as possible from travellers at the railway stations in Basel, Bellinzona, Bern, Geneva Lausanne, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Zurich. All proceeds from the collection campaign will be donated to the SOS Children’s Villages.

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Mobile Aid & Mobile Bonus

Swisscom promotes recycling of mobile phones that are no longer in use through two different programmes.

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