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How to recycle mobile phones in the enterprise

Mobile device disposal requires careful planning. IT teams must learn how to recycle mobile phones to keep e-waste out of landfills and enterprise data out of the wrong hands.

To handle the dual responsibility of reducing e-waste and protecting data on enterprise mobile phones, IT administrators must find a way to retire these devices both securely and sustainably.

Improper recycling presents significant risks, including data breaches and environmental harm. In an enterprise setting, mobile devices might hold important corporate data, so retiring them safely is vital. If a user or organization fails to properly erase the sensitive data on a smartphone before reselling it, the next device owner could get unauthorized access to confidential documents, contact lists, photos and more.

The environmental impacts of e-waste are also considerable, especially since mobile phones contain hazardous materials such as lithium batteries. Organizations must adopt a structured electronics recycling plan to mitigate these risks.

As a result, it's important for admins to learn how to recycle mobile phones in the enterprise without sacrificing data security or environmental sustainability.

Mobile device recycling methods

There are several different ways to recycle enterprise mobile phones. Some vendors provide trade-in programs, which enable the exchange of old devices for credit toward new ones. There are also dedicated e-waste recycling initiatives that ensure environmentally safe disposal. Vendors such as Apple, Samsung and Google provide trade-in programs for their devices. These programs cover tablets and Chromebooks as well.

Organizations can also consider the following approaches:

  • Manufacturer take-back programs. Some phone manufacturers do not offer credits. Instead, they offer take-back programs where they accept old cellphones and recycle them responsibly.
  • Charitable donations. Organizations can donate old mobile phones to nonprofits, which either refurbish the devices for use or recycle them. These charities then use the proceeds to fund their programs.
  • E-waste specialists. Organizations can partner with e-waste recycling programs that can handle the logistics of recycling large volumes of mobile phones.

When selecting a recycling option, admins should evaluate the volume of devices they need to retire, their current state and their potential for reuse. It's possible to revitalize many mobile phones for further use simply by replacing their batteries or display.

Securing mobile data before recycling

Prior to recycling, device administrators must ensure that all mobile phones are stripped of any sensitive data they might contain. This involves wiping all data from the devices and removing SIM cards and additional memory cards that might be used on them.

IT teams should follow a standardized process for data deletion. If there are devices that have handled sensitive information, admins should consider using certified data destruction services as well. This often includes removing the device from endpoint management platforms to ensure that it is no longer in the inventory. Then, if the phone is not properly reset, it still cannot access corporate services such as email anymore.

If a user has stored personal data on their smartphone, IT should provide clear instructions on how to copy the data and save it elsewhere before wiping the device.

IT should also educate users about the importance of personal data removal before handing over devices for recycling. These security measures are crucial to prevent potential data breaches or data loss during the recycling or repurposing process.

If a user has stored personal data on their smartphone, IT should provide clear instructions on how to copy the data and save it elsewhere before wiping the device. One option is to use the backup feature from the phone vendor before they start using the new device.

To erase all the data and information from a phone -- including contacts, text messages, photos, videos and search history -- admins can use the built-in mechanisms that different OSes offer to wipe content. Both Apple and Android provide information on how to restore devices to their factory settings.

How to recycle enterprise mobile phones

The process of recycling enterprise mobile phones consists of a few key steps. First, assess the condition of each device to determine if it is suitable for recycling or reuse. IT can redirect devices in good condition to refurbishment programs or swap their batteries out to ensure they remain functional for redeployment or donation. If IT chooses to recycle a mobile phone, the device should undergo a secure data-wiping process.

Consider using a professional e-waste recycler for a secure and eco-friendly recycling process. To ensure adherence to data security and environmental safety standards, prioritize recyclers who hold relevant certifications, such as ISO 14001. Collaborating with certified recyclers both helps to maintain regulatory compliance and provides assurance that the recycling process is carried out responsibly.

E-waste recyclers follow a detailed process upon receiving discarded mobile phones. After collection, these programs meticulously document and track the devices to ensure data privacy throughout the recycling journey. At the processing facility, the devices are categorized based on their condition. Functional devices are selected for refurbishment, while those beyond repair are shredded to safeguard personal data.

Recyclers then segregate the materials they derive from these devices into basic commodities. This careful and precise process plays a dual role: It not only protects sensitive data but also promotes environmental sustainability by reincorporating valuable materials into the manufacturing cycle.

Recycling mobile phones properly is important for protecting the environment and keeping information safe. By recycling the right way, organizations can reduce harm to the environment and prevent the loss of private data.

Marius Sandbu is cloud evangelist for Sopra Steria in Norway who mainly focuses on end-user computing and cloud-native technology.

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