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E-waste World: how to reboot worn out wearables?

The global smart watch market was worth EUR 39.6 million in 2018 and is projected to increase to around EUR 98.5 million by 2024. Despite this, the niche market is taking only its first steps with regards to recycling, Recycling International heard at the E-waste World Conference & Expo.

Almost 14 million Fitbits were sold worldwide last year, well down on the Californian company’s best year of 2016 when sales exceeded 22.2 million. Despite the lower volumes entering the market in recent years, the total number of devices sold since 2010 is considerable at about roughly 91 million.

‘This means a lot of devices have reached and are approaching the end-of-life stage,’ says Mulan Mu, sustainability and circular supply chain specialist at Fitbit. ‘The steady volume of wearables makes them an interesting recycling stream. We are trying to figure out what is the best way to collect them for recycling and what are the best recycling options nationwide.’

Mu points out that consumers have voiced data protection concerns, although Fitbit wants to guarantee that every device is refurbished or recycled by licensed players. ‘We’re exploring dedicated in-store take-back collection schemes right now,’ she adds. ‘This has proven to work well for other electronics as the high convenience factor boosts engagement.’

At the moment, consumers are advised to take old Fitbits to a local recycling centre. Alternatively, big retailers like Best Buy accept a wide array of unwanted consumer electronics, including pedometers, smart speakers, smartphones and smart watches.

Both are said to be valid options for consumers, though Mu stresses that Fitbit wants to get directly involved in recycling to embrace the producer responsibility principle.

‘As a company, we want to plan for future growth but we want to do so sustainably,’ she insists. The company expects to increase sales by targeting health apps, which where the real potential for new growth lies, but is aware that more sales mean more waste. ‘Part of our mission is helping the recycling sector close the loop.’    

Stay tuned! The full review of E-waste World will be published in the first 2020 issue of Recycling International.

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