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The issue of recycling electronics is a hot topic. Electronics contain besides well known materials such as silicon and copper, a variety of raw materials used due to specific and unusual characteristics (malleability, conductivity, etc).

These include organic (petroleum) based plastics (such as PET), metals, and rare minerals.

Nickel, chromium, aluminum, lead, silver and tin are among those widely used metals in electronics; often for components such as resistors, capacitors and transducers.

Some of the more exotic metals and minerals commonly needed in the manufacture of electronics are antimony, bismuth, cobalt, fluorite, garnet, magnesium and talc.
Perhaps most importantly, a variety of rare earth metals and minerals are used in electronics. Currently, China has a stranglehold on their production with 95%  of the total.
It has recently began restricting exports of certain raw materials needed for electronics manufacture.

It is important to note that China does not have a true monopoly of the reserves of these raw materials, as they are ironically quite abundant, but difficult and expensive to extract.  In nations with strict environmental regulations, it is currently not possible to extract them (in relatively pure form) at economically feasible levels. A complete ban on exports from China, would obviously change that fact, as they would have to be produced elsewhere, though at likely very significant cost increase to certain electronic components.

The above relates to sourcing of the raw materials needed for the production of our ever more ubiquitous electronic gadgets. On the other end, there is an at least as equally challenging problem in the form of disposal. Electronic waste forms an increasing portion of our total waste destined for landfills. Many of the raw materials pose a very significant threat to the environment and health (mostly in the leakage of toxins into the water supply and general environment).

A critical part of the solution to both of these issues would logically lie in recycling. Recycling of electronic components not only stops them from ending up in landfills  but frees their raw materials to be re-used in new devices after the old ones were broken or obsolete.

Ironically, initial efforts at recycling have led to a  much greater health and environmental issue than traditional disposal. Electronics is routinely shipped from industrialized nations to third world countries where the lack of environmental, health and safety regulations (or enforcement) allow for ghastly extraction methods.

Here workers manually extract, toners, cathodes, copper wiring and a host of other components from a sea of “e-waste”. The environment surrounding these areas is notoriously high in lead, acid and other toxins, while a great bulk of the components (once cleaned of the manually extractable precious materials) are burned in the open air.

The last two decades have seen an unprecedented increase in the demand for all the raw materials needed in electronics and subsequently in the vast tonnage of e-waste the modern Western World produces. There are efforts in several nations to enact laws that ban this type of off shore recycling, but it is still wide spread since it is much cheaper.

Even sustainable and “clean” recycling has its drawbacks. It is expensive, inefficient,  high in energy consumption and still leads to a lot of disposable waste. It is clear that the most efficient method of recycling is re-use.

When devices are given a second chance at life, the productivity and benefits of the practice are significantly higher. Re-use does not require energy-intensive industrial processes, nor various rounds of cross-global shipping only to produce the original raw materials, which subsequently of course require even more industrial processes, cost expenditures and energy to be re-manufactured into new electronics.

Devices that are lightly refurbished, used for parts in simple repairs, and/or simply resold “as is” demonstrate the most efficient recycling of electronics. With a minimum input of resources, the device is sold at a lower cost to users who would otherwise not have access to technology, thus improving their standard of living. Perhaps most impressively, this type of re-use recycling not only is more cost-effective and better for the environment, but also represents the highest value recuperation possible for the device.

An Iphone 4s for example, used, refurbished or otherwise, has a market value far higher than its raw material components sold separately  Re-use of electronic devices preserves their inherent value (and functionality which is their entire point) at a far greater proportion than traditional breakdown recycling.

Of course, at a certain point, electronic devices are so obsolete and outdated that extraction of their raw materials is the only valuable recourse left for them, but most of our e-waste is far from that point. Just because an American or Canadian user wants to have the brand new iPhone 5 this particular year, does not mean that another user in Colombia would not be perfectly well served by his now unwanted iPhone 4s.

How to obtain this value from your unwanted electronics?

The faster you do this the better, since your unwanted electronic devices are losing value each day. There are a myriad of trade in and buy back programs for smartphones across the United States, and many charity recycling programs. However, the legitimacy of many is hard to gauge, and many claiming to recycle do so in questionable ways.

If you are going to trade in your old smartphone, there is no reason why you should not try to obtain the highest trade in value for it possible. From the reputable programs we surveyed, the highest trade in value for smartphones was given by Smartphone Cash In.

The service is still relatively new, and has a limited selection of devices they currently accept. However, this selection is rapidly growing and the service urges any user who wishes to trade in devices not listed to contact them directly to obtain their current trade in value.

Besides offering the highest trade in values online, Smartphone Cash In had a number of advantages over their competitors. Rather than using the slower USPS service, and requiring the customer to go to their post office, the site offers a Free FedEx pickup with every smartphone trade in. Perhaps most importantly, if any issue arises with the trade in; for example the final value due to a disagreement on the device’s condition, Smartphone Cash In will always ask the user for agreement on the final trade in value. If you disagree with their assessment, your device is returned to you at no cost.

Most other services require a leap of faith, once a smartphone or other device is turned in, you cannot ever get it back, and the final trade in value remains solely in the hands of the company. Any defect found on the device (such as a bad ESN, water damage etc) can cause the trade in value to simply drop to “zero” and your smartphone is lost. Some of these companies seem to rely on such shady tactics for their true profit, accepting that they will in essence get a certain portion of their phone trade ins at no cost.

Smartphone Cash In seems to stand alone in guaranteeing the customer’s satisfaction with the trade in value and cash payment, or returning the device at no cost.

Giving your old Smartphone a new lease on productive life, while getting some cash in your pocket, seems like a great way to go.


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