What Almost Everybody With An Old Phone Can Do To Boost The Circular Economy

Colin Dörries
3 min readAug 24, 2020

Nowadays, there are more than 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. That is almost half of the earth’s population. And in saturated markets, such as in Europe or the US, each user roughly owns 1.5 smartphones¹. That is half a phone more, than you typically need. The implications of this abundance on the environment and consumption of resources are devastating.

Photo by Free Creative Stuff from Pexels


For many, the smartphone has become the key device and acess point of their digital lives. It is used to comunicate with family and friends, as well as to order food or the next Uber ride. Because for a lot of us, it takes such a central role in our lives, we are willing to upgrade to a new model on average every 21 months. Even if the old phone still works, many people want to have the latest version of the iPhone or respective Android device.

This often results in a lot of smartphones gathering dust in drawers. Instead of being reused or recycled in order to keep precious resources in the economic cycle. This is a problem for a number of reasons.

#1 For every phone in use, up to four remain in drawers unused¹

#2 89% of old mobile devices in the UK ultimately end up in landfill¹

#3 This results in loss of valuable materials like gold, silver & rare earth metals worth more than USD 500 million per year in Europe alone²


The basic principle behind the circular economy is simple. It’s about keeping precious resources and materials inside the system. Instead of dumping them to landfill or into the oceans. When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense.

Figure by Catherine Weetman from Wikimedia

Our current economic system is mainly based on “cradle-to-grave” design. However, the idea behind the circular economy tries to implement “cradle-to-cradle” design.

So, your possible way to make a difference might be too obvious, but you can acutally help the environment by simply selling your old phone to keep in the cycle. Another way is to “trade-in” your old phone. Most of the smartphone manufacturers have special offers for people who bring in their old devices.

You can find information about Apple’s trade-in offer here and about Samsung’s here.

Or bringing your unused drawer-phones to the closest local recycling site is also a good idea.

We all know that we should (must?) do more to reduce resource and energy consumption. Today, I hope to have shown a simple but effective way for almost everybody to actually do something useful.

What are your ideas? Do you have any suggestions to help recycling or reusing everyday products? Let’s get in touch.

Sources: ¹(Green-Alliance), ²(Ellen MacArthur Foundation)