Smartphones have the “highest replacement rate in history” over any other electronic good available.

Over a 4 year period, people will own 4-8 cell phones.

This is due to several factors including: 

  • Technological Obsolescence
  • Rapidly Changing Technology
  • Cell phone companies offering incentives to replace them

This is a problem because cell phones are a “one-of-a-kind” electronic device.

They require a very large amount of rare earth metals for their micro-processors, which connect cell phones to wireless transmitter towers

The odds of finding a substitute for rare earth metals range from slim to none and global consumption of rare earth elements has steadily and sharply risen.

Rare earth metal supply has diminished  at an alarming rate because of an increase in demand by 10-20% every year…but little to no recycling is done.


Although rare earths can be mined in many countries, including Canada, there is a lack of incentive to extract them due to high research and development costs  (Mancheri, 2012; Hurst, 2010; OECD, 2011).

This means we absolutely must work harder to recycle smartphones to use what is already available – like the many smartphones that are stored in consumer homes.

Do YOU have smartphones hoarded in your drawers at home? 

You’re not alone. 

Check out the numbers below:

  • Ongondo & Williams (2011) found that 60% of students have at least one phone in their possession, while some have as many as 5 old phones stockpiled!
  • Motorola estimates that 55% of cell phone are kept in people’s homes
  • Nokia (2008) estimates that 40% of their cell phones are kept in consumer drawers

This means that the “Urban Mining” potential of old smartphones is being wasted.

A potential $47 billion is hoarded in consumer smartphones because we haven’t recycled them. 

This represents wasted rare earth metals in people’s homes that a cell phone manufacturers can:

  • reuse;
  • remanufacture; and
  • recycle

and extract valuable materials.

Unsuccessful take-back programs currently exist within many big telecommunications companies because of a lack of organization, unrealistic goals and procedures as well as implementation (Wilde-Ramsing & Esther, 2006).

On the consumer side, previous research has shown that consumers do not return their devices for various reasons, such as: (Huang, 2008; Ongondo & Williams, 2011; Dobele, 2009).

  1. Keeping them as a spare;
  2. Not knowing what to do with them;
  3. Lacking motivation
  4. Having an emotional attachment;
  5. Security reasons
  6. Perceived value of the phone

It’s up to us to understand the impacts these rare metals have on our planet and to bring them back to be recycled properly so the material can be reused. 

What can we do?

  • Refrain from purchasing a new phone
  • Recycle your old phones when you replace it
  • Repair your phone as much as possible
  • Donate your phone to extend it’s lifespan
  • Buy a used phone wherever possible
  • Repurpose – use for WIFI to play games in hospital wait rooms, etc.

Remember, some people have as many as 5 old phones stockpiled…this is a lot of material that can be reused/recycled.