Cellular Phone Recycling in China

16 Aug

Brian Walter James Y. De Los Reyes                                                                         June 21, 2011

SocSci180 JX                                                                                     Prof. Narcisa Paredes-Canilao

Cellular Phone Recycling in China

An Account

            There have been many problems that arose in the age of modern technology.  It is hard to label problems as separate with each other like when we say environmental problems and social problems because actually both are connected to each other.  There are varieties of problems that started to exist because of this fast developing human knowledge although I believe it is unfair to say that technology advances and are still benefitting from it.

Years ago, waste only come in the form of easily manageable waste like biodegradable wastes.  But recently, in the peak on electronic age, there also exists the idea of electronic wastes or e-waste.  To simply explain it, these are wastes that are primarily from electronic products which are already non-functional or are already disposed by owners.  This phenomena of e-waste is alarming for the reason that there is an increasing amount of waste from electronic items and more alarming fact is that improper disposal of such waste may be harmful to the environment, to humans and hence to the whole of the society at worse.  These electronic wastes contain toxic substances that can harm our health when they are not properly managed.

As a response to the increasing amount of electronic wastes, some countries, like China developed a strategy to manage the problem and that is recycling.  “The frequency of China’s mobile phone users changing used phones is accelerating, and as the adoption and promotion of 3G technologies by the 2008 Olympic Games, used phones will step into a more substantial growth period.  Thus, how to deal with these used mobile phones has become an important environmental problem” (Yang, 2008).  As stated, the rate of people changing their mobile phones increased due to factors like the release of new phone technologies like 3G and some events in their locale and that is the Olympics which was held in China.  Hence, if people change phones sooner than before, it explicitly implies that there will be more phones to be disposed and another alarming fact is that not all people are knowledgeable on the proper way of disposing wastes like old cellular phones.  This led to the recycling of old cellular phone items in China.

The recycling of cellular phones is done in various ways.  It is done either by reconditioning old phones and reprogramming or by extracting minerals from specific parts.  There is actually an advantage of this cell phone recycling industry to the economy of China but more importantly to the environment.  First is that these recycled phones suffice the needs of certain buyers because of the low prices (Yang, 2008).  This means that access to wireless communication among people who are not capable of buying cell phone units that are expensive is easier with the presence of cellular phone recycling in China.  Second is that, this phone gives the opportunity to reuse mobile phones and exhaust possible resources and consequently results to the reduction of waste or resources (Yang, 2008).







The diagram is from The Report on E-waste Issues Related to Mobile Telecommunications in China by Dr. Yang.  It illustrates how the industry on recycled mobile phones extends the span of use of an item.  Instead of immediately abandoning an item, the recycling process provides more options.  The diagram illustrates that first, brand new phones are sold and then used by consumers and when they are already used then they are recycled.  After the process of recycling, these cellular phones are sold in secondhand markets.  The recycled items are either sols again in the market or reused.  In addition, since these wastes are processed and are recycled properly the possible harms and hazards that it can cause to the environment is already diminished.

Interestingly, the recycling of cellular phones in China is a systematic strategy towards maintaining the economy and at the same time making actions to minimize environmental damage.  Recycling keeps away the manufacturer form acquiring same materials and thus saving the cost of production and at the same time reducing e-wastes.

An interesting fact is that, there is a trend towards eco-friendly products.  This means that people tend to purchase products which are more environments friendly and also reduces the rate of environmental damage.  This is another factor behind the boom of the phone recycling industry in China.  Statistics show that China is one of the largest cellular phone consumers in the world (Yang, 2008).  This implies that they acquire more phones and thus they produce more used phones.  Hence, it is an advantageous strategy of China to look at the e-waste management issue properly because it does not only involve their booming economy but also the environment is an aspect that needs to be considered.

Can cellular phone recycling actually eliminate the problem on e-wastes?  Looking at the flow of recycled cellular phones, I am interested on the span to which the recycled phone can be used and how long it will take for it to be considered a totally un-recycled item.  In addition, I am also curious about the health threat to those who worked at recycling the used cellular phones.  I believe that the cell phone recycling industry is not a perfect project but looking at how it responds to the possible threats e-waste can bring, at some point it is beneficial especially in a country like China which as the report by Dr. Yang is the world’s largest phone consumer (Yang, 2008).



Yang, J. (2008).  A Report on E-wastes Issues Related to Mobile Telecommunications in China.  NTT DOCOMO, Inc. Research Institute of Solid Waste Management, Chinese Research Academy of Environemntal Sciences Beijing, P.R. China.  Retrieved from http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/8441529-recycle-mobiles-show-some-courtesy-towards-your-home-planet-the-earth accessed June 18, 2011.


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