E-Waste: What Will Happen to all the Recalled Samsung Phones?

Over the last several months, the electronics giant Samsung has been mired in scandal as their once-great Galaxy Note series has seen a sweeping recall for two separate models of the phone. After several Galaxy Note 7’s had exploded in their customer’s hands, a detailed investigation of the problem revealed two individual design flaws that allowed flammable chemicals in the phone’s lithium-ion battery to come into contact, thus igniting the phone

The problems facing the South Korean tech giant’s profitability in the cell phone industry are extensive, not the least of which is what to do with several thousand pounds of phones that are now essentially worthless. The answer? E-waste disposal, a unique process that’s becoming increasingly common in our modern world.

The Numbers on E-Waste

At the end of the Galaxy Note 7 recall, Samsung found itself with 4.3 million defective smart phones on its hands. Simply shipping them to the nearest landfill wasn’t an option, since smartphones are composed of materials that can be extremely harmful to the environment if not properly disposed of. These materials can include plastics, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and more.  

Perhaps even more interesting is the incredible amount of valuable materials that can be recovered from Samsung’s millions of “useless” smartphones. Some estimates claim, “the recalled Galaxy Note 7 smartphones contain more than 20 metric tons of cobalt, more than one ton of tungsten, one ton of silver, 100 kilograms of gold, and between 20 and 60 kilograms of palladium.”

Clearly, even these defective smartphones still have some use. But, how will Samsung choose to take advantage of the recyclable commodities s in their phones?

Refurbish and Resell

Some organizations like Greenpeace have advocated passionately for Samsung to fix each phone and put it back on the market, second-hand. The environmental organization has even gone so far as to rappel down the side of a building to get the attention of Samsung shareholders.

Giving the Phones an Acid Bath

This method of disposing of e-waste would involve soaking the phones in a highly acidic solution that separates the phone’s waste products from it’s valuable metal components. The metals can then be salvaged to create new materials.

Waste to Energy Salvage

In the right environment, the phones could be incinerated, and their waste byproducts converted to energy. This method of disposing of the phones could potentially reduce the amount of waste by thousands of pounds.

Standard Recycling Practices

The phones could be given to a reputable recycler who will properly dismantle Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7’s. This process is more involved but could result in the most lucrative recovery of the vast majority of the phone’s valuable minerals and electronic components.

Samsung’s Pledge

Regardless of how Samsung chooses to move forward with the disposal of their phones, they have publicly pledged to prioritize, “a safe and environmentally friendly process for disposing of devices. We are committed to working closely with regulatory bodies, as well as carrier partners, to ensure a responsible disposal plan for our devices.”

At General Kinematics, we understand that properly investing in e-waste recycling and disposal is integral to the future of our planet, and this burgeoning practice is showing a lot of potential in keeping our efforts moving in the right direction. Considering processing e-waste? Contact GK to achieve higher recovery rates and increased ROI.

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