The hibernating mobile phone: dead storage as a barrier to efficient electronic waste recovery

Hibernation, the dead storage period when a mobile phone is still retained by the user at its end-of-life, is both a common and a significant barrier to the effective flow of time-sensitive stock value within a circular economic model. In this paper we present the findings of a survey of 181 mobile phone owners, aged between 18–25 years old, living and studying in the UK, which explored mobile phone ownership, reasons for hibernation, and replacement motives. This paper also outlines and implements a novel mechanism for quantifying the mean hibernation period based on the survey findings. The results show that only 33.70% of previously owned mobile phones were returned back into the system. The average duration of ownership of mobile phones kept and still in hibernation was 4 years 11 months, with average use and hibernation durations of 1 year 11 months, and 3 years respectively; on average, mobile phones that are kept by the user are hibernated for longer than they are ever actually used as primary devices. The results also indicate that mobile phone replacement is driven primarily by physical (technological, functional and absolute) obsolescence, with economic obsolescence, partly in response to the notion of being ‘due an upgrade’, also featuring significantly. We also identify in this paper the concept of a secondary phone, a recently replaced phone that holds a different function for the user than their primary phone but is still valued and intentionally retained by the user, and which, we conclude, should be accounted for in any reverse logistics strategy.