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Business mobiles, why responsible disposal is so important

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional)

The mobile phone has become such a ubiquitous part of our lives it is hard to imagine how we ever coped without it. This year, more than ever, the multitude of benefits delivered by mobiles and smartphones has never been more appreciated, or more widely used.

Many companies provide these digital toolboxes to support employees in all aspects of their work, and ensure they are given generous data allowances and a wide choice of business apps. What this means is that mobile phones are being used as much, if not more than, computers and laptops to manage business activities.

Where once most business interaction on phones was restricted to calls and email, multiple apps are now utilized to speed up communication, to carry out video conferences, and to collaborate better.

In fact, during the fast pivot to lockdown in March, many employees were forced to rely heavily on their smartphones whilst employers scrambled to connect them to company systems.

Unlike computers however, and particularly within corporate networks, mobile phones are often inadequately protected, and this makes them a target for cyber criminals determined to tap into the enormous amount of valuable information they store

It’s no wonder then that, according to a study by Verizon amongst professionals in charge of mobile procurement and management, one in three organizations admitted to suffering a compromise due to a mobile device.

As well as infiltrating through phishing attacks and malware, one of the most common ways to breach smartphones and access sensitive data is by targeting the phones that companies and their employees are no longer using.

Impact of data breaches on old mobile assets

The used phone market is booming, with forecasts from IDC predicting that it will be worth $67 billion by 2023. This is great news for consumers and businesses who can benefit from lower prices for refurbished phones. However, businesses that decide to recycle their old mobile units need to ensure they work with a reputable partner for this process, because the risk of a data breach is high, and the consequences are severe.

It’s easy to forget about mobiles when considering GDPR, but, in fact, the data stored on employees’ phones must be kept as secure as information held on internal databases and servers. If a breach or data offence occurs, businesses can be issued with fines of up to four percent of their annual turnover, or £20 million, whichever is greater. It’s wise, therefore, to pay close attention to due diligence when it comes to disposing of unwanted devices.

Recycling and re-using with respect for the environment

There are a variety of great options when it comes to the correct disposal, refurbishing or recycling of mobile phones.

The best approach for companies is to look for an end-to-end specialist service capable of processing devices that usually would be considered waste, with the view to re-use. Check their credentials to ensure they meet with international customer and environmental standards and that they guarantee all units are connected to an automated data wipe program and restored to factory settings to guard against future data breaches.

It may come as a surprise to organizations that the units they are disposing of, or reluctantly holding onto because they are concerned about data breaches, are likely to be suitable for refurbishment. In fact, the majority can be safely recycled and reused, they don’t have to be treated as scrap, and importantly, they will not be sent to landfill.

A report from the United Nations launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year which said that a ‘tsunami of e-waste was engulfing the world’, also pointed out that many devices are full of valuable materials appropriate for recycling. It said that in a ton of mobile phones, for example, there is 100 times more gold than can be found in one ton of gold ore.

The best form of recycling, therefore, is re-use, and this applies not just to complete units, but to parts, accessories and boxes. Companies should look for a partner that aims to re-use as many materials as possible and can rework units that are considered non-saleable, even if the handset is missing its display, is bent or is even in pieces.

Handsets that do qualify for recycling should be processed under the strict protocols set by environmental certifications. This would ideally be ISO 14001, the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system and EMAS, the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme.

Companies should expect their solution provider to commit to a whole lifecycle service that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and minimizes environmental risks.

Deriving business benefits

Given the importance of ensuring data on business mobiles is protected or securely erased, and the increasing focus on corporate environmental responsibility, organizations should seek involvement in the entire recycling process of their mobile assets.

Reputable recycling specialists can offer online solutions that help their customers to live track the salvage journey from start to finish. This should begin with the secure, audited collection and delivery of mobile assets. Again, they should look out for compliance with regulations such as ISO 9001, which specifies requirements for a quality management system. This will ensure a high level of security and reassure businesses that their assets are being handled appropriately, securely and safely.

There is also the issue of the unit’s worth.

Any recycling process that mobile phones go through should be geared towards maximizing revenues and salvage values for businesses.

This is easy to forget when abandoning last year’s model in order to keep up with the latest technology trends, or the desire for more and more apps and features.

The intrinsic materials are worth money. According to figures from Statista around 1.52 billion smartphones were sold worldwide in 2019, which gives some indication of the numbers that are now languishing in drawers or cupboards in offices. It’s time to get them out and put them back to work. 

Businesses should be considering mobile devices as part of their IT strategy and data protection initiatives.

Take this time of remote working to encourage employees to take another look in their home offices and return any unused company phones so that they can be disposed of securely and compliantly, not only ensuring data protection for your organization but reusing valuable resources that needn’t go to waste.

Juney Mistiki, Managing Director, Bamboo Distribution

Juney Mistiki is Managing Director at Bamboo Distribution, an international leader in the recovery, refurbishment and recycling of consumer electronic devices.