Here's what Samsung is doing with all those recalled Galaxy Note 7s

Phone disposal

Now that the Galaxy Note 7 is dead and consumers are sending their devices back in fire-resistant boxes, the question is: what does Samsung plan to do with the 2.5 million Note 7s it's recalled? 

The answer won’t sit well with those worried about the environmental impact of electronic devices. 

“We have a process in place to safely dispose of the phones in accordance with all government regulations,” a Samsung spokesperson tells TechRadar. 

This means Samsung won’t repair or refurbish any Note 7 sent its way, as first reported by Motherboard

It's not clear what Samsung's disposal process entails, though we asked if the company plans to reuse any of the materials from the Note 7, but only received the above response. 

While scrapping the Galaxy Note 7 won’t lead to an environmental catastrophe on the scale of, say, an oil spill, it's still a huge waste of the materials that went into manufacturing the device. What’s more, there's taking into account the people who mined for elements used in the Note 7 as well.

Adding to all this is that Samsung is now having customers send back their Note 7s, creating even more used materials – like those fire-resistant boxes – as well as burned fuel. 

Samsung may be taking a hit on the recall to the tune of $2.3 billion (a number that’s already ballooning), but it points to a much larger problem with our smartphone obsession.

Waste, repeat

The fact of the matter is that even as smartphones advance with every generation, what we do when we’re done with them still lags far behind. 

We lack the processes to cost-effectively pull out precious materials, which are often gathered in environmentally destructive ways, and generally at the expense of back-breaking human labor. 

The issue of what to do with phones at the end of their lifespan isn’t limited to just the Galaxy Note 7 – it’s a problem every manufacturer faces, and consumers, too. 

As Motherboard points out, device makers often turn to refurbishing and reselling phones because of the lose of materials and cost of recycling them. There are other creative solutions out there, such as Japan’s plan to turn elements from discarded electronics into medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

What makes the Note 7 situation even more frustrating is that the back of the phone was molded onto the device, meaning users couldn’t simply replace the defective battery. 

If only customers could remove the Note 7 battery and swap it with a new one, rather than returning the entire phone, the environmental impact would be considerably less. 

While Samsung likely wants to wipe its hands completely clean of the Note 7 – understandable given the safety threat it poses – perhaps this incident will serve as a catalyst for a larger conversation about what we do with electronics once we’re ready to replace them. It’s a pressing issue, and one we hope is solved soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Senior News Editor (US)

As the US News Editor, Michelle (Twitter, Google+) keeps her eye on all things tech with particular interest on phones, tablets and finding out who the people are behind the devices. Any phone that can survive a regular (accidental) drop has her vote for best handset. Michelle previously worked covering local news in the Bay Area and has been with TechRadar since July 2012.