How are our smartphones recycled?

As soon as you purchase a new smartphone, the old often end up living in a drawer. These devices could have a second life by being reconditioned or recycled. How do you recycle a smartphone? This is what we went to see in Le Havre in the offices of Morphisms, a French SME working in partnership with Orange.

When laptops arrive in huge containers, they do not have the shape you already know them. They were de-boned, and the plastic shells were separated from the screens and electronic components. The first will be sent to specialists of this material that requires special treatment. Morphisms will devote itself to the treatment of the other components.

Once sorted, this waste is weighed and recorded for perfect traceability. Then begins the recycling process itself. The first component that will benefit from treatment is the screen. If the window of a smartphone is starred, it does not necessarily mean that the slab below is unusable.

After taking off the glass, employees of the SME will test the slab to see if it still works. Does it still react to pressure, to touch, are liquid crystals/diodes still active? If this is the case, a new glass will be stuck on the slab so that it can serve again.

Cards burned at a very high temperature

Then comes the work around electronic boards and components. The objective is to recover all the precious metals (gold, silver, copper …) so that they can be used again by the industry. Firstly, a sample will be analyzed in the laboratory to precisely determine the quantities of metals to be extracted and the protocol to be applied to optimize the yield of the operation and avoid any pollution.

The cards will then go through several stages. They first undergo pyrolysis so that all the organic parts are eliminated. The result is brittle pieces that are crushed to obtain a black powder. This one therefore still contains all the precious metals present in the cards. It is then melted in one of the Morphisms melting furnaces at a temperature of 900 degrees. The liquid metal is then cast into plates.

The plates thus obtained undergo a chemical and electrochemical treatment. They are immersed in various baths developed by the Le Havre SME and undergo electrolysis treatment. These operations will allow to separate and recover the different metals. These will be tested one last time to check their purity must be greater than 99.9% to be reused for example by the solar industry, battery manufacturers or even brands of smartphones.

 

Orange and smartphone recycling

Since the early 2000s, Orange has embarked on collecting and recycling old phones, which is reflected in many actions. In addition to his partnership with Morphisms, he has set up a collaboration with Ateliers du Boscage, a member of Emmaus International, to ensure that the working devices reported to him are repackaged and then resold.

Since 2010, the operator has already participated in the recycling of more than ten million mobiles worldwide, half of them in France. “The goal is to reach 30% of recycled mobiles by 2020,” said Christine Albany, CSR Executive Director, Diversity, Partnerships, and Solidarity at Orange, before visiting the Morphisms site.

Recovery and ethical smartphone

And since 100 million old laptops sleep in the drawers of the French, an operation will be conducted from May 18 to 31, 2017. They will be taken 10 euros minimum (depending on their condition and their age) for any purchase of a new device.

Finally, because the best way to reduce the stock of old laptops is to extend its life, Orange will market the Fair phone 2 next summer. This smartphone of Dutch origin has indeed a longer life span than its competitors since consumers can easily change certain parts such as the screen, the speaker … Another way of preserving the environment.

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