Q: Why is the use of mobile phones such a big issue to tackle?
A: In 2019 research showed there were 6.8 billion mobile phone users around the globe. Today there are 7.3 billion. That’s great for connectivity but it’s been disastrous for our planet because for example in 2023, 5.3 billion phones will end up in landfills or drawers, often before the end of their usable lives.
Q: How do we even begin to conceptualise 5.3 billion phones?
A: An extraordinary total of at least 5.3 billion phones are prematurely discarded or left in a drawer around the world. When placed end-to-end, these phones would stretch to the moon. And back. That’s more than 768,800 kilometres.
Mobile phones are part of an estimated annual total of 50 million tonnes of e-waste. That’s the equivalent weight of all the commercial aircraft ever made, and it’s jumped by more than 20% in just five years. It’s a vicious cycle. The ongoing mining and depletion of critical minerals and materials to create more mobile phones, many of which are medium or low quality and don’t last as long, is a global problem that is rising exponentially.
Q: What is Kingfisher doing?
A: Kingfisher breaks the electronic waste cycle by incentivising people to return their devices (instead of putting them in a drawer), then collecting, repairing and refurbishing discarded phones, and on-selling them to other consumers through a global marketplace for reconditioned mobiles. We give mobiles a new life with a new owner. We’re launching the World Phone Amnesty in Australia, before taking it global, because Australia is an environmentally aware country that takes sustainability seriously.
Q: How does the World Phone Amnesty work?
A: The Amnesty was designed to drive awareness of a more responsible and sustainable way to own and use our mobile phones. It’s very simple. When you buy a new phone, don’t just chuck your old one in a drawer. Instead hand it in to your telco provider so it can be given a second, third and fourth life. Or hand it on to your child, cousin, Mum or Grandma so they can use it as that’s another good way of extending the usable life of the device.
Q: So, what’s the difference between this and recycling? Isn’t recycling what we’re supposed to do?
A: Immediate end-of-life recycling isn’t the outcome we’re after. We want pre-loved phones to have multiple lives.
Premium smartphones by major manufacturers are made to last around eight years and 83% of the carbon emitted in their lifetime happens at manufacture.
We realise consumers won’t want to own the same phone for eight years. But someone else would welcome your old phone. You can still upgrade to a phone with the features you need. About 95% phones we process end up back in a consumer’s hands and only around 5 percent are recycled. Recycling is the last resort.
Q: The telcos, retailers and phone makers have all initiated phone trade-in programs, and consumers seem to be aware of their existence. Aren’t they doing enough?
A: It’s true that telcos and manufacturers are already providing trade-in programs, but their existence alone hasn’t led to a big increase in phone trade-ins. Kingfisher and the launch of World Phone Amnesty aims to change that by raising further awareness of the part we can all play in keeping our phones in circulation for longer. We are working with telcos to collect and upgrade old phones and distribute them to new audiences.
Q: How does the Kingfisher program work in Australia?
A: You start by loading Kingfisher’s Trade-In app on the phone you intend to trade in. The app conducts a diagnostic including audio and visual tests to assess how much your phone is worth. Once you have your quote, you hand-in your device at a Telstra or AusPost store. Telstra will initiate your credit and it should appear on your account within 3 to 5 business days. In this way you are prolonging the lifespan of your phone so someone else can use it, and you are also getting some money back too.
Q: Is this scheme only with Telstra?
A: We’ve started with Telstra. We designed and operate Telstra’s Upgrade and Protect program, their Trade-in program, and the Belong Second-Life store. And more telco providers across the globe will be launching soon.
Q: What will happen to my old phone once I trade it in?
A: Phones are refurbished and repackaged at our warehouse in New South Wales. We use extremely high security grade deletion software to wipe every single device handed in. Higher-end refurbished second life phones will be made available online through the Belong Second Life Shop. Others are sold both within and outside the Australia and New Zealand region. Phones are provided in recycled packaging but we don’t supply chargers to reduce waste. To date, these schemes are running well, and we’ve seen a 15X increase in the number of devices returned through the programs we run.
But there’s still a long way to go.
Q: Some people say they still can’t afford a quality phone, even if they are offered a decent trade-in. What do you say to them?
A: We suggest that before you consider buying a new, inexpensive phone (which will have a shorter lifecycle), that you consider buying a refurbished two to five-year old Apple or Samsung phone that’s stronger, uses the latest software and still offers great features.
Q: The World Phone Amnesty officially kicked off on October 17 and runs for a year. What will success look like to you as the company’s co-founder?
A: Success will be a change in consumers’ behaviour, where they know that when they are finished using a phone, they expect to return it. If we extend the life of all the current phones in the world we will prevent 21 million tonnes of carbon going into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of taking 4.7 million cars off the road for a whole year. If we increase the number of mobile phones going back into the circular economy from the present 10-20% to 50%, that would be a massive win for consumers everywhere, and our planet. And it will set us on the path to ultimately reach a one-for-one exchange – where every time a new phone is purchased, an old one is returned.