comscore Refurbished smartphones a key to a circular economy for e-waste?

Can refurbished smartphones be the key to a circular economy for e-waste?

India is projected to generate an estimated 5,200,000 metric tonnes of e-waste this year. Can refurbished smartphones help create a more sustainable and self-sustaining future?


With growing lifestyle trends, peer pressure and easy access to finance, the urban Indian is replacing/upgrading their mobile phone ever so often. If you peek into your own homes, you’ll realize that the number of personal gadgets far outnumber the residents of the household. No doubt these gadgets are an essential part of our lives. But the rapid replacement and obsolescence of these devices is adversely impacting us in more ways than one. Also Read - Upcoming smartphones to launch in February 2020

The e-waste conundrum

India is the fifth largest producer of electronic waste after USA, China, Japan and Germany. As per an ASSOCHAM-EY study, India is projected to generate an estimated 5,200,000 metric tonnes of e-waste this year. About 82 percent of this electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) waste. This comes from personal use items such as computers, laptops, mobile phones, television, and more. Also Read - Cashify launches e-store to sell refurbished smartphones, laptops and more

Not only is this waste segment growing at an exponential rate (at an estimated CAGR of 30 percent), but it is also one in which the awareness and means to recycle is abysmally low. Despite the establishment of the E-waste (Management) Rules 2016, India recycles less than 0.5 tonnes of e-waste. More than 95 percent of this is handled by waste pickers from the informal sector. They often employ rudimentary recycling techniques that compromises on safety and presents severe health and environmental hazards. Also Read - Reliance Jio offers Rs 2,200 cashback on refurbished 4G smartphones from Quikr Bazaar

Understanding the impact of our actions

Other EEE goods such as televisions, refrigerators and washing machines have relatively longer shelf lives. The handy mobile device however is the one which seems to get the boot the quickest. India has an estimated 1.02 billion active mobile phone users. Telecommunication and mobile e-waste accounts for over 12 percent of the total electronic dump annually. The volume of discarded mobile phone is likely to increase 18 times over from 2017 to 2020.

Other than the serious environmental impact, the growing production and consumption of smart devices has also overstressed the availability of natural resources. A standard smartphone uses over 75 natural elements. These include gold, silver, zinc, copper, platinum and palladium. Others include rare earth elements such as neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium, terbium, gadolinium and lanthanum. The extraction and industrial production of these elements is extremely challenging and expensive.

Shift towards a sustainable future

To mitigate the environmental, social and economic impact of our actions, we need to chart a path for a shift towards a circular economy for e-waste. In other words, it is now time to focus on re-use of refurbished gadgets.

Almost 50 percent non-renewable resources used in smartphones don’t make it back via recycling. Refurbishing hand phones will not only help keep these precious resources in the loop for repeated reuse. But it will also reduce the overall carbon impact and recycling costs.

For consumers wanting an aspirational brand such as Apple or Samsung, refurbished phones come at heavily discounted prices, usually between 25-5- percent. Trusted online vendors provide a valid invoice and ensure a warranty for your purchase. They also whet the accessories such as chargers and headphone that come with the phone. So you can rest assure that the phone and accessories are not faulty/ fake or incorrect.

From an economic perspective, refurbished phones help keep the consumption demand relatively buoyant despite overall economic slowdown. On the other end, acceptance of refurbished items will help create employment opportunities for more technicians and engineers. It will also present the opportunity for small businesses to expand via the ‘Make in India’ route.

A structured push, as envisioned by NITI Aayog, towards improving resource efficiency will encourage handset manufacturers to make R&D investments towards Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). With these EPR norms, we will see handsets that have a longer lifespan. They will also be easier to refurbish and recycle, giving an impetus to the ‘Swachh Bharat’ initiative.

Raising awareness regarding the benefits of re-usability of gadgets will boost eco-innovation in the Information and Communications Technology arena. This will provide a fillip to an indigenous ‘Digital India’ mission. The collaboration and congruence of ethical and efficient manufacturing, strong legislative infrastructure and responsible consumerism can help us develop a circular economy where resources are optimized. Additionally with a closed loop production stream design, we are unlikely to run out of resources and would be self-fulfilling for a sustainable future.

The article is written by Nakul Kumar, Co-Founder and COO, Cashify

  • Published Date: February 3, 2020 3:37 PM IST
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