Consumers care about safe cellphone disposal

Ben Gurion Univeristy researchers test consumers' behavior regarding the disposal of their smartphones.

January 18, 2017 02:34
2 minute read.
HUNDREDS OF used cellphones wait to be recycled at the offices of San Diego-based start-up ecoATM

HUNDREDS OF used cellphones wait to be recycled at the offices of San Diego-based start-up ecoATM.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

When do you replace your expensive but still-functioning smartphone? Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers, concerned about the ecological harm caused by the disposal of working electronic devices, found that the longer consumers hold on to their smartphones, the more they are willing to pay more for more advanced technologies; however, they also want to make sure that the one they replace will be disposed of properly so as not to harm the environment.

Dr. Ran Ben Malka, Prof. Yisrael Lusky and Prof. Miki Malul tried to find the ideal time to replace electronic products, according to consumers, and compared it to the time needed for a correct social and environmental solution.

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The researchers examined the level of “technological backwardness” – the sense that one’s product is inferior to those used by others – of each consumer, asking: “ If you could purchase the most advanced smartphone on the market [in exchange] for your current phone plus an additional sum, what is the maximum amount you would pay for the new technology?” They also examined the types of devices currently used by those participating and how long they had owned them.

Due to frequent changes in today’s electronic devices, modern consumers are prone to developing technological backwardness. Therefore, they want to upgrade what they have frequently, even if the outdated devices are not broken, unlike in the past, when devices were only replaced once they could no longer be used.

Cell phones, video game consoles, TVs and computers are thrown into the garbage even when they are still in good working condition.

Most consumers replace their smartphones every year or two, the researchers said, thus creating an immense amount of electronic waste that is toxic to the environment. Readiness to pay for the new technology is affected by age, income, education and environmental awareness.

They also looked into whether the Israeli consumer would be willing to pay extra money during the purchase of electronic products, such as smartphones and PCs, to ensure that the previous devices would be disposed of and recycled properly. Fully 91.6% of them were ready to do so.

This result surprised the researchers, because the public is reluctant to pay additional taxes or other payments on consumer products. But they explained that since the payment would not go directly to the treasury as taxes but collected separately and used for a specific pro-environment cause, those participating in the study did not object.

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