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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The economics of cell phone reuse and recycling

  • Author(s): Geyer, Roland
  • Doctori Blass, Vered
  • et al.

There is widespread consensus that landfill of waste electronic and electric equipment is not an acceptable end-of-use management option. Diversion from landfill, either through voluntary or mandatory take-back and collection programs, overwhelmingly leads to the recycling of e-waste, which typically consists of the recovery of a limited number of metals. Cell phones are currently one of the few electronic products, if not the only one, that also have a thriving reuse market. In fact, more handsets are reused than recycled. Cell phones therefore offer the rare opportunity to compare closed-loop supply chains for e-waste reuse and recycling. In this paper, we examine the economics of cell phone reuse and recycling based on detailed primary data collected from reverse logistics, reuse and recycling operations in 2003 in the UK and in 2006 in the US. We show that while cell phone reuse has a healthy profit margin, handset recycling is currently a by-product of reuse.

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