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FY2012 Data on Recycling of Mobile Phones and PHS Devices – Popularity of smartphones changes recycling behavior –


The Telecommunications Carrier Association (TCA) and CIAJ are working to improve the efficient use of materials in mobile phones and PHS devices through the “Mobile Recycling Network (MRN)”
As part of this endeavor, TCA, with the cooperation of mobile operators providing mobile phone and PHS services, created MRN in April, 2001, which voluntarily collects used mobile and PHS terminals, battery chargers, and batteries, mainly through the approximately 10,000 retail outlets throughout Japan, regardless of carrier or manufacturer. As of the end of 2011, MRN had collected 92.63 million devices.
Meanwhile, CIAJ established the “Environmental Assessment Guideline for Mobile and PHS Terminals,” in March, 2001 as a guideline for manufacturers to assess their products and promote the 3R activities (reduce, re-use, and recycle).
The actual figures for recycling in FY2012 are as follows.

1. Figures for Recycling and Re-Use in FY2012

(1) Figures for Recycling

The number of mobile and PHS terminals collected in FY2012 decreased from the FY2011 figure by 360,000 terminals (-5.2%). With the popularity of smartphones, handsets were increasingly equipped with multiple advanced features and consumers began holding on to older models to be used for non-communication purposes even after switching to another model. This has led to a continued decline in collected devices.

(1,000 terminals)
(1,000 terminals)
(1,000 terminals)
(1,000 terminals)

(2) Figures in Re-Use

Metals used in mobile and PHS terminals include steel, aluminum, magnesium, gold, silver and copper. Gold, silver, copper and palladium are refined and re-used. The slug resulting from this refining process is used for road beds and shore-line tetrapods.
Non-metallic material (plastic, glass, etc.) are also processed for recycling. Plastics are dissolved at low temperatures into resins to be made into hangers, plastic containers, toys and other every-day goods.

(3) Voluntary Numeric Targets

Since FY2009, MRN has set several numeric targets in order to further promote recycling activities. Last year’s achievements per target are listed below.

Target ItemTargetActualPrevious FY(reference)
(1) Awareness of recycling activities70% (*1)60.4%62.9%
(2) Material recycling rate70% (*2)73.3%96.1%
(3) Collection rate30% (*3)21.7%26.3%
(*1) Assessed from a survey of user awareness and behavior.
(*2) Material recycling rate of handsets for MRN (the recycling rate of metals and other materials extracted from collected terminals: excludes heat recovered materials from FY2012).
(*3) Collection rate for all carriers.
Collection rate = “total number of devices of all carriers collected at licensed shops and other locations” / (“total number of subscribers who changed models at licensed shops and other locations” + “total number of mobile phone contract terminations”)

The collection rate did not achieve the target in FY2012 and was below the figure in FY2011. This likely reflects the rapid penetration of smartphones and while more subscribers are changing to newer models, we assume that when upgrading handsets or switching to a different carrier, consumers are not providing old models for recycling because of the relatively advanced features of the older smartphones and their ability to access wireless LAN networks even after the termination of their carrier contracts. MRN will enhance our efforts to collect and recycle respective devices from users by increasing the number of collection points and further increasing awareness.

2. Survey on User Awareness and Behavior

An annual survey of two thousand mobile phone and PHS users was conducted to gain a better understanding of recycling perceptions and behavior. Data from smartphone users, which until last year was used for reference, was fully incorporated for analysis in this year’s survey.

(1) Smartphone users accounted for under 30% in last year’s survey, but grew to account for 43% in this year’s survey.

(2) The survey shows that among those who changed handset models or terminated their contract in the past year, 13% (almost unchanged from last year) returned their handsets to the retail shop. By device, smartphone users returned their devices at a slightly higher rate (16%) than feature phone users (11%).
The figure for those who had not returned their handsets includes people who held on to their handsets after changing or terminating their previous devices as well as those who didn’t change or terminate the contract for their handsets during the period covered.

(3) Similar to last year, people who returned their handsets to a store specializing in mobile handsets was the largest group at 58%. Of those who switched from smartphone to smartphone models, 22% gave away their old model to an acquaintance and 27% sold their old model in the used market. Compared to users who switched from feature phone to feature phone models, the rate of such re-use (4% and 8% respectively) was significantly higher, showing clear disposal behavior differences among device types. In addition, respondents who threw away their devices as garbage grew from 8% to 13% and the figure for those who sold their old devices grew to 10% from 6%. While relatively few smartphone users threw away their devices as garbage (2%), a significant 27% sold their old model in the used market.

(4) Of the respondents who have a handset(s) used for a purpose other than as a communication device, there was a notably high percentage of users who had switched from feature phone to smartphone and smartphone to smartphone. Among those who had switched from smartphone to smartphone, those who were still using their old smartphones was particularly high at 37%.

(5) Among the respondents who have a handset(s) used for a purpose other than as a communication device, the most popular use (multiple answers possible) was “kept to hold on to data (photo, e-mail, contents, etc.)” (26%), followed by “kept as part of a collection or for sentimental reasons (emotional attachment to the handset)” (24%), and “no specific reason, but want to keep the device” (20%). The response was not very different from the previous year’s survey.
On the other hand, 15% of respondents chose “worried about disclosing personal information” as a reason for holding on to their handsets, even after they no longer used them. 10% indicated that the reason for holding on was that they “did not know how to dispose of their handsets.” More efforts to promote MRN, especially information on such measures as data transfer, proper erasure of personal data and assistance at MRN participating retailers are still necessary.

(6) Among the respondents who have a handset(s) used for no purpose, 59% stated that they would definitely like to or might be willing to dispose the handset, if it is a feature phone and over 40% if it is a smartphone. 23% stated they definitely do not want to or rather prefer not to dispose the handset, if it is a feature phone and a much greater 38% if it is a smartphone. This indicates that there is greater reluctance to dispose of the handset if it is a smartphone and thus, a greater likelihood of keeping the device compared to feature phones. It will be necessary to continue monitoring user trends to determine if this phenomenon will continue, or if it will plateau after smartphones reach a certain saturation point.

(7) Only 14% of respondents said they had seen notices from local governments concerning how to dispose of no-longer needed mobile devices. There will be greater need to gain the cooperation from local authorities with the implementation this April of the law on the recycling of small home appliances. Of the respondents who had seen notices, 48% said they got information through a “newsletter issued by the local government,” while others said they saw the information in a “waste disposal calendar” or “waste disposal manual” distributed by the local government.

(8) Awareness of the recycling of mobile phones and PHS equipment, including the logo, is decreasing, indicating the need for further efforts.
Awareness of MRN: FY2010 (63%) FY2011 (60%)
Recognition of logo: FY2010 (19%) FY2011 (17%)

(9) Upon showing documents on the significance of recycling handsets and introducing MRN activities, 74% of all respondents said they would definitely like to or might be willing to cooperate in collection for recycling efforts. 71% of smartphone users gave such a response, indicating the future challenge in how to link such sentiment to actual MRN collection behavior among users.

3.Measures to Improve Recycling

(1) Take steps to increase awareness
As a way to increase awareness of recycling activities by MRN, efforts will continue to provide information on websites, catalogs, manuals and billing material. Emphasis on activities such as posters introducing MRN at stores specializing in mobile handsets, stickers, pamphlets/leaflets, advertising in newspapers, magazines and other medium, coverage by the press as well as working with local authorities who are responsible for trash collection will continue. In order to promote collection, we will strengthen efforts to provide guidance at specialty stores when users change models or terminate their contracts.

(2) Increasing the opportunities for collection
MRN will work closely with the “Cellular Phone Recycling Promotion Council (tentative translation)” organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) and composed of large-volume retailers, ICT manufacturers, telecom carriers and relevant organizations, to encourage easier consumer access to recycling, conduct appropriate protection of personal information, increase collection opportunities and raise awareness.

(3) Take measures to increase collection

  1. To increase collection rates among users who have sentimental attachments to information and data (photos, e-mail records, etc.) on their used handsets, increased support at retailers together with more information on availability of data transfer and improving the ease of backing up or transferring data stored on old models to new models will be made.
  2. In order to ease user anxiety over leaking personal data, more effort to improving implementation and oversight of resetting or complete data erasure/destruction at specialty and retail stores (i.e. drilling a hole through the handset keyboard) will be key factors in encouraging users to feel more comfortable taking their handsets they no longer use to MRN-participating retailers.

(4) 3R measures

  1. 11 domestic manufacturers, who are CIAJ members, conducted a FY2012 environmental assessment of mobile phones and PHS devices from February through March. With the increasing popularity of smartphones, manufacturers are designing the devices to be slimmer and lighter as well as enhancing their features. They are simultaneously complying to the “Environmental Assessment Guideline for Mobile and PHS Equipment” and actively promoting the 3Rs.
  2. More than ever, mobile phones and PHS devices are emphasizing enhanced features and slimmer and stylish designs with the popularity of smartphones. However, with the implementation this April 1st of the law on the recycling of small home appliances, there is greater interest in society about the 3Rs. Manufacturers need to balance fulfillment of user needs with 3R responsibilities, and enhance the “Environmental Assessment Guideline” to promote 3R activities even further for mobile phones, PHS devices, and data communication devices.

Mobile Recycling Network
URL: www.mobile-recycle.net (Japanese)

For details, contact

Products & Technologies Development
tel: 81-3-5403-9358

For more general inquiries, contact

Corporate Communications
tel: 81-3-5403-9351 fax: 81-3-5403-9360