Increasing the Use of Recycled Material in Smartphones
Increasing the Use of Recycled Material in Smartphones
  • Reporter Yoon Joo-Hwan
  • 승인 2023.06.15 08:47
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▲Modular smartphone made by eco-friendly smartphone company, Fairphone / DesignWanted
▲Modular smartphone made by eco-friendly smartphone company, Fairphone / DesignWanted

  The demands for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) management are growing among lots of global corporations. In particular, they focus on the environmental impact in all processes from production to consumption as the concern about the environment increases. This trend is remarkable in the smartphone market, where major IT companies declared they would make their products eco-friendly by expanding the use of recycled parts. It has been over two years since more than half of the world population used smartphones, and many environmental organizations have expressed concerns about the environmental effects of smartphones. According to a waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) research consortium last Oct. 15, they announced that more than five billion smartphones would be discarded, exhorting to reuse the mobile phone or various parts. The major mobile manufacturers commenced to utilize the recycled parts in recent years to support environmental concerns, and it has become a kind of marketing strategy.
  Samsung Electronics applied a variety of recycled materials such as plastic and metal to the Galaxy S23 Series, a product released this year. Waste fishing nets and PETs are employed for comprising multiple components. Samsung recently adopted these recycled parts regardless of internal or external uses for the first time and notified the beginning of recycled parts utilization by also applying them to their flagship products. Moreover, by-products like glass fragments and aluminum, which are formed in production, are not discarded but composed into the exterior finishing or frame body. It is consistent with their step to not only utilize recycled materials but also reduce the waste.
  They also endeavored to eliminate unnecessary packing materials. Samsung has attempted to decrease its use of disposable plastics for packaging since 2017 and has aimed to perfectly abolish the use of them in all products’ boxes by 2025. Other companies as well have joined this trend, implying that eco-friendly packages have settled into the mainstream mobile market; for example, Apple started to reduce the proportion of plastic packages even before other companies followed suit.
  Another noticeable recycle technology from Apple is the disassembly robot that extracts precious materials from abandoned devices. Apple developed de-manufacturing machines called ‘Daisy’ in 2018 and has already used them in various fields. It has contributed to activating the reuse of mobile parts by decomposing up to 200 redundant devices per hour. Apple has provided its license to other enterprises working on the de-manufacturing process. They are focusing on the recycling of parts from existing products and how to extract them using sophisticated machines.
  By means of these technologies, Apple has reused a multitude of resources, gathering micro parts that could not be obtained through standard processes and have even gathered metals like tungsten and rare-earth elements. In case of metal components, many people believe that metals are wasted because it is hard to extract them, and more precious metals have been dumped as the usage of electronic devices increases. Apple emphasized their recycling means in terms of metals and has utilized various types of recycled metals throughout the product as well as eco-friendly packaging.
  In this atmosphere, another company in Holland, Fiarphone has attracted attention as a front-runner in sustainable electronics. Fairphone is producing modular smartphones using up to 40% recycled plastic materials with the mission of “launching fair smartphones designed and produced to cause minimal harm to people and the Earth.” They use 100% recycle plastic, retrieve the resources from their products and e-waste from Africa, and reuse it.
  Fairphone also offers self-repair kits for the sustainable use. They pointed out not only the process for recycling but also the ease of repair, by introducing modularity in the device and providing an easy repair guide based on modules. This product is the first smartphone to receive a perfect score of 10 points for the repairability from iFixit, a company specializing in the disassembly and repair of electronics. Since the smartphone is composed of modules, users can easily repair it and since repair is recommended rather than repurchase, resource waste can be reduced by using phones for a long time. This leads to prevent unnecessary abandonment of parts and allows more recycling.
  Recycling has became a keystone in today’s mobile trend with rising interest in the environment. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the global recycling market is continuously growing, and plastic will become an important role in circular economy, where resources are actively reused. It is also expected that the smartphone will adopt more recycled and eco-friendly materials including plastic and many other elements.