A new company has been formed specifically to address the 65,000 tons of mobile phone e-waste created each year in the US. Called eRecyclingCorps, it’s a venture-backed company co-founded by two industry veterans, David Edmondson, the CEO, was previously CEO of RadioShack, and Chairman Ron LeMay was formerly President and COO of Sprint.
Apparently, of the 4 billion wireless subscribers in the world, only 1% recycle their handsets. In the US alone, 130 million phones are retired each year. It’s eRecyclingCorps aim to help tier one wireless carriers buy back used handsets from consumers and ensure they are resold or recycled. With significant residual value in used mobile devices, there is an economic opportunity for all involved, as well as the environmental benefit.
eRecyclingCorps is not the first company to recycle mobiles, but it is the first to work with carriers. The company uses a web-based platform that integrates directly into the point of sale system at carrier retail stores, where 60% of all US phones are sold. It offers consumer trade-in incentives, in-store collection and privacy as an integral part of every phone purchase.
Sprint, not surprisingly, is the first carrier to use eRecyclingCorps, which has been deployed in 1,100 company stores, 1,400 dealers and through its online channels. Sprint wants to achieve a wireless reuse and recycling rate of 90% by 2017.
Sprint has reinforced its environmental commitment recently. In February the company’s CEO testified to the US Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet about sustainability initiatives from Sprint and the wireless technology industry as a whole. He announced the mobile buy-back scheme and also that Sprint is the first US wireless carrier to establish a set of green design criteria for consumer devices. In the future every handset vendor who manufactures handsets to operate on Sprint's networks must produce handsets that meet or exceed Sprint's new green specifications.
E-waste is becoming a growing ICT focus not just because of increasing (and stricter) legislation but also because there’s money in recycling. ICT suppliers want to achieve targets but offload the day-to-day process – it’s not core business – so this is fertile territory for new businesses and innovation. Hence the emergence of venture-backed start-ups with the opportunity to generate significant revenue from what is a fundamental part of green ICT. Eventually I would expect these operations to be bought out by larger recycling groups as the industry as a whole matures.