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Sign of the Times
It’s hard to think of a more wasteful, depressing use of the planet’s resources than mobile phones. It’s not that they’re not worth having (although some would argue the case). It’s more the case that we’ve entered an age when what is a relatively expensive, technical gadget has become utterly disposable. Everyone wants the newest, trendiest, most up-to-date model as soon as they can get their hands on it and the average consumer almost certainly replaces their handset at the end of each contract. That means there are an awful lot of unwanted mobile phone handsets lurking in drawers and cupboards.
There are a number of ways that you can recycle your mobile phone.
• You could give it to a friend or family member. • You could take to a local recycling centre or specialist recycling facility. • You could donate to a charitable scheme. The Recycling Appeal (www. recyclingappeal.com) collects mobile phones, recycles them and raises funds for charitable causes. • You could sell your phone privately. It’s easily done on eBay, for example, and you can be assured that you’ll get a good price. Don’t take them to boot fairs though. Specialist dealers will pounce on you and offer you ridiculous sums of money. • You could sell your phone to a specialist company, who will pay you a fixed, going rate and then recycle the handset.
I’ve tried all these methods at different times, for different reasons. Most recently, with the knowledge that I was sat on three unwanted handsets, I decided to try out the last option.
The online recycling companies recondition/clean up unwanted handsets and sell them on, often to developing countries. Where handsets cannot be reused in their entirety, they will use as many parts and pieces as possible and will then dispose of any unusable parts appropriately. In fairness, if you wanted to be truly ethical about this, you’d donate to the charitable schemes, who aren’t in it to make a profit, but that’s a very personal choice.
Where to Start
If this is all new to you, I’d suggest that you use one of the many online comparison sites that compare different mobile phone recycling web sites, giving you an immediate ‘best price’ on your handset(s).
‘www.compareandrecycle.com’ is a useful site that gives you an instant price for second hand mobile phone handsets, MP3 players, digital cameras, games consoles and gold/jewellery. They list 21 different recycling companies and by entering in a model number (e.g. Nokia 1100) they will present you with a list of all the companies offering a price on that handset. The listing is ranked, highest to lowest, so you can easily see which company offers the most and they’ll quote you in cash or vouchers (as appropriate), as well as telling you how long (on average) the company takes to pay up. Other comparison sites are only partnered with a limited number of recycling companies so be careful which ones you choose. www.mobilephonerecycling.co.uk for example, only partners with 8 recyclers.
The three handsets that I wanted to sell were:
• A Blackberry Curve 8310 • A Nokia 6280 • A Black Motorola V3 Razr
Pictures of envirofone.com
time that I recycled these handsets (December 2009) the highest price offered on the Blackberry and the Motorola was through www.envirofone.com. The other handset was worth a little more to other recyclers, but I opted to do all three through one company. The prices offered on handsets do change regularly though. Indeed, searching on these handsets now, the prices offered via www.envirofone.com are lower than many of their competitors, albeit by 1 or 2 pounds, so it definitely pays to shop around. www.fonebank.com now seems to be the highest paying recycler on at least one of these handsets.
The Look and Feel of Envirofone
There’s a word that springs to mind when you first see this site and that’s ‘simple’. ‘Simple’ is good. ‘Simple’ means that things do what I expect them to do, when I expect them to do it, in the way that I expect them to do it. That pretty much applies to this site.
In terms of explaining how it all works, the pages are well laid out and designed. You can do a quick search for your handset (essentially a three-click process) or you can browse by manufacturer. The ‘How It Works’ link really does demonstrate how simple the basic process is, but as you come up with more specific questions, the FAQ are quite thorough and if you’re really nervous about it all, they even offer online chat during working hours (which I always think is a good thing to have on any commerce site).
There are generally no silly banners or gimmicks. Images are kept to a minimum and the colour scheme is simple – a combination of white and blue that’s easy on the eye. I can’t say that there are NEVER any silly gimmicks – there’s currently a rotating picture on the home page of some simpleton holding a handful of cash in an environment I can’t begin to explain but there you go (it’s a still from their TV advert, allegedly). As time goes on, it must be said that, the business of recycling phones aside, the company seems to be expanding its presence in social media. Links to Facebook and Twitter are now prominent and they’ve started to indulge in online polls and news flashes. I’m happy to ignore these things but given the choice, would see them go.
They seem to have moved away from their attempts to look ‘ethical’. Despite the name of the site, they don’t use a green colour scheme or any kind of eco-imagery, which surprises me. I’m not keen on their new ‘Green Room’ pages, which are Facebook-style links to sponsors and partners, including Sky and Experian. It’s really just a slightly different way of presenting the sort of links and banners you would find on countless other websites. Their ‘Green Offers’ are sorely lacking – a paltry pair of links to ‘ethical’ insurance companies. I can only imagine/hope that this part of the site grows over time.
So How Does It Work?
It’s a very simple process.
1. Search for the handset that you have for sale. You may be presented with a number of links for variations on the model. If you search for iPhone, for example, you’ll need to choose which one you have. 2. Select the handset that you have for sale. 3. Choose your payment method. You can receive the funds via bank transfer, via cheque, via Paypal or in Argos vouchers. You’ll get about 10% more if you choose vouchers. 4. You can also choose to donate a percentage to charity, choosing from a fixed list of the most popular charities. 5. You can also donate a small percentage to offset the carbon footprint of your phone. Essentially, this is donated to a charity that invests in ecological projects. 6. Once you have selected a method of receipt of payment, you will be asked to register for an account. (After you’ve done this once, you’d just need to log in). Details requested are basic (name, address etc) and you can opt out of marketing emails. The site uses SSL encryption, a widely recognised secure data handling process. 7. Confirm the details and checkout. You can print off an address label and an order summary to include in the package. You can either wait for them to send you a padded envelope or use your own. I used my own but I did wrap the handsets in a little bubble wrap to ensure they didn’t get damaged. 8. Wait for the company to receive your handsets. You can track the status of the order through your account. 9. Wait for your payment.
Things I Liked
The process is efficient. I found that Envirofone turned around my transaction as quickly as they could. Within three working days of having sent the handsets, I received a cheque, which I thought was impressive. The ability to track the order online is very useful – you can see when the handset has been received and when the payment has been made.
They seem to have an enormous range of handsets and offer quotes on just about any handset that has ever existed, even it it's only pennies.
Support is pretty good. Along with the web chat, the company responds quickly to emails and there is a free telephone number for queries. They are pretty transparent about the process, making clear at each stage any liability issues (e.g. they recommend that you send the phones via secure, recorded method of postage.) Clear guidance is published around what the offered price means. Full price (100%) is paid on handsets that are ‘in full working order, complete with battery. Normal cosmetic wear and tear is acceptable on all mobile phones.) The price will be reduced missing batteries, serious damage, locked SIMs and so on. All this information is made clear to consumers.
They seem to offer competitive prices. Whilst they may not always be the best, they generally seem to be a small margin within the best price offered. The handsets are recorded accurately. I have seen other sites where one handset (e.g. Blackberry Curve 8310) is listed several times, with minor variations on the name that mean nothing. The quality of the pictures of the handsets is excellent.
The site has a clear policy of reporting stolen phones to the police. I’d be confident that this wasn’t a lucrative way for thieves to get good cash for stolen phones.
If you are selling four or more handsets in one go, the company offers free courier collection. It’s worth clubbing together with friends or family to take advantage of this secure method of delivery.
Surprises and Concerns
There were some things that surprised and, if I’m honest, concerned me a little about the process.
In spite of the eco-claims of the web site, they don’t proactively ask you to send in chargers, headsets and other accessories, meaning that you still need to find other means to recycle them. This seems to be defeat the object, if you ask me. I don’t think there’s enough information about what happens to the handsets either, or about how much margin the company makes on the transaction – but I guess they would keep that one close to their chest!
You have to remove any SIM cards from your handsets along with any data that might be stored on the phone. However, the site goes to pains to ensure they have no liability for any costs incurred after you have sent the phone. So, if someone received and used your SIM, for example, you’d still be liable for those costs.
The process for dealing with phones that don’t meet the terms and conditions has room for improvement. The company will email you on receipt of the phone with a lower offer, as appropriate, and you then have 5 working days to respond. If you don’t respond, they will take this that the offer has been accepted. But what if the email ends up in your spam or junk filter or you are away?
Suggestions For Improvement
1 – I’d like to see the site proactively recycling mobile phone accessories too, particularly chargers, as the market moves towards a universal charger. These are classified as hazardous waste. In fact, if you check the terms and conditions they do say that they welcome the return of such items but that they won’t increase the price.
2 – I’d like a written guarantee that any SIM and memory cards sent in error are still recycled/destroyed. Also, some additional guidance on how to ‘clean’ data off handsets and SIM cards would be useful. www.mazumamobile.com offers a free data delete tool, whereby they will send you custom instructions on how to ensure your handset has been cleaned of data.
3 – The policy for dealing with damaged handsets should ensure that Envirofone know that you have been made an offer. If they have no response after 5 working days, my view is that they should make a courtesy call or write to your home address and allow a further 5 working days. Once the handset is gone, it’s gone – and you won’t be able to change your mind. Their terms and conditions reiterate the need to check your spam filters, but given that this only affects 10% of transactions, I would see this as a good way to improve their overall reputation.
4 – The Green Room/community section is a cluttered waste of time. The quality and variety of content is highly limited. I’m not sure that I see this as a logical part of a site like this and would rather see it removed.
5 – Constantly searching around for the best price can be a nuisance. Who will be the first site to offer a price match guarantee?
6 – Why don’t they sell parts or second-hand handsets back to the UK public? If they are committed to recycling, this would seem like a very logical and appealing thing to do. If you needed a spare battery for your phone, it would be good to be able to buy one here.
A good service and an experience that would make me recommend the site to anyone considering recycling their mobile phone handset. You might get more money with one of the competitors but the turn around here is rapid and the ordering process is very simple too. I’m not sure I like their moves into social networking sites and social media in general though. I think they should stick to the transaction handling – these parts of the site look like an afterthought really.