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In this decade, more and more businesses feel the need to adjust their operations in favor of more long-term sustainable practices. From consumer demands to politics and investors, environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices have never been discussed more than today.
However, this boom is not just about using green energy in production or donating towards environmental efforts. It’s about changing entire corporate cultures, making employees and partners aware of sustainability issues and implementing shifts across all departments.
Contemporary businesses are profoundly dependent on consumer electronics such as smartphones and laptops. These devices present distinct sustainability challenges and opportunities, spanning from recycling to lifespan extension. As such, they not only offer global entrepreneurs an exceptional chance to demonstrate their dedication to ESG principles by implementing adequate company policies and educating their workforce but also enable them to reap significant financial benefits in the future.
E-waste and secondhand smartphones
The global secondhand market is booming, and this is especially true for consumer electronics. In fact, according to CCS Insight, refurbished smartphone sales grew by more than 14% in 2023, outshining new smartphone sales and reaching a total of $13.3 billion in Q1 2023 despite suffering from a severe supply shortage. This growth is a testament to the evolving consumer sentiment, and this trend is poised to continue flourishing throughout the current decade and beyond.
One of the key driving factors behind the expansion of secondhand mobile markets is the growing concern over electronic waste or e-waste. The proliferation of electronic devices has led to an alarming increase in e-waste, which poses serious threats to the environment, human health and animal well-being. Over 53 million metric tons of e-waste are produced around the globe annually, and only 17% of this e-waste is recycled.
From toxic chemicals leaching into soil and water to hazardous emissions during the disposal process, the consequences of improper electronic waste management are far-reaching and detrimental. Furthermore, manufacturing new smartphones and other consumer electronics requires a substantial amount of resources, which are valuable and limited.
With the raw materials that are found in e-waste being estimated to be worth around $60 billion, there are many reasons for companies to care about recycling and repairing used smartphones. Failing to recycle and reuse these resources exacerbates the scarcity of raw materials, which leads to higher production costs and an unsustainable product life cycle.
The infrastructure is advancing
As consumer sentiment continues to lean toward sustainability, the necessary infrastructure to support the growth of secondhand mobile markets is developing in tandem. The global electronics recycling market amounted to about $40 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach a value of $110 billion by 2030.
Recycling or refurbishing a used smartphone is a multifaceted process that requires a well-coordinated network of services. According to a 2022 study, convenience is a major factor when it comes to recycling.
Japan, a global leader in handling e-waste, provides thousands of convenient drop-off points for consumers to discard their used smartphones, dedicated examination centers for a thorough assessment of devices, and avenues for repair and refurbishment.
At ATRenew, we are now aiming to intensify recycling-related infrastructure development in China. For example, to facilitate convenient recycling, ATRenew has opened nearly 2,000 offline stores in a bid to provide the necessary infrastructure.
How businesses can position themselves
Crucially, it’s not only the device manufacturers and refurbishment centers that can make a lasting impact. Every modern-day organization aware of these issues can position itself as a responsible entity committed to reducing e-waste.
As usual, the first step to reducing e-waste and increasing the lifecycle of devices is to invest in the education of employees. Holding training sessions on the responsible usage, maintenance and eventual disposal of electronics can greatly enhance their longevity and suitability for refurbishment. Additionally, companies could organize public presentations or workshops to educate both employees and regular consumers, thus showing their commitment to the public.
Finally, there are also a number of internal policies that could make a big difference. For instance, offices could introduce shorter tech refresh cycles during which current devices are upgraded, or even allow employees to bring their own devices – with appropriate security measures, of course.
Regardless of which measure is ultimately used, all organizations can choose to put them on public display via social media and thus achieve a great branding effect with consumers and talent alike.
A sustainable path forward
The increasing prominence of secondhand mobile markets reflects a broader shift in consumer behavior, and this change is not merely a passing trend. Instead, it is a well-founded response to the challenges posed by e-waste and resource scarcity.
As consumers are becoming more conscious of their choices and the impact of their actions, secondhand smartphones have become a preferred option since they align with the principles of sustainability and responsible consumption. This, in turn, is animating businesses to follow suit and provide a supply to quench that demand.
With this positive feedback loop, the growth of secondhand smartphone markets in the recent past will definitely continue over the next decade. By reducing e-waste, conserving valuable resources, and making advanced technology accessible to a broader demographic, these markets are shaping a more sustainable and equitable future.