Emmanuel Macron imagines a “return bonus” to encourage you to reuse your old phones

Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team is calling for the creation of a “return bonus” to encourage French women and men to send their old phones for recycling.

This is a new proposal that comes up in the public debate a few days before the second round of the French presidential election in 2022. And if the next government puts a financial incentive in place so that French men and women find their old unused smartphones, to send them for recycling?

This prospect could materialize in connection with a victory for Emmanuel Macron in the vote on April 24, 2022.

smartphone broken broken cracked screen
A smartphone can be repaired. It can be renovated. It can also be recycled. // Source: Jack Sem

This track has been suggested by the outgoing president’s campaign team, reports the newspaper Les Échos in its April 18 issue. This is clearly very new: it can not be found on the candidate’s website, avecvous.fr. Macron’s program does not mention it either. The digital component certainly addresses the issue of recycling, but to point out what has been done.

The measure appears to be part of an environmental shift that the head of state is seeking to address in the intervening rounds, with more ideas on this theme being launched in public space in recent days – such as the desire to set up a “nature festival” “every year (although this initiative already exists elsewhere).


An open landfill.  Illustrative image.  // Source: Pixabay

Precious metals in smartphones

The contours of the device are still vague. Quoted by the economic daily newspaper, the LREM camp explains that ” this bonus will promote the collection of these items, which today are real city mines in our pockets and in our drawers In short, it would be a way to (re) evaluate old phones, on two levels.

The first would concern the public, who could gain an advantage back by returning unused (or even useless) cell phones. The second would benefit the industry in a broad sense, because by potentially putting millions of smartphones back in the recycling cycle, we could thus gain access to many metals, which we could thus reuse.

smartphone chemical elements
The chemical elements of a smartphone. // Source: Interest rates

Behind their shell of plastic, glass or aluminum, smartphones use many resources, some of which are exotic and rare. Some names, such as cobalt, tungsten, copper or lithium, may be known. Others, such as gallium, tantalum, niobium, indium, hafnium and palladium, may be smaller.

All parts of a smartphone use more or less scarce resources. This applies to the electronics of the device, its screen, its battery, its case. If these resources are not always rare, contrary to what their name suggests (rare metals), on the other hand, they are quite scattered in the earth’s crust and located in very specific places.

Up to 110 million abandoned phones in France?

How many smartphones could we put back in the circuit with this track? Hard to say. According to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, there are between 54 and 110 million smartphones around the homes, according to an estimate from April 2021. The selection is very wide (it goes from single to double), a sign of the difficulty of making a more accurate estimate.

In addition to the fact that two-thirds of these smartphones generally still work, Ademe reports that a phone can be recycled up to 80%. Therefore, based on these data, there would be significant potential for recycling rare metals, even by limiting ourselves to a low estimate of the number of mobiles left in the home.

Once implemented, the measure can work on three levels:

It would strengthen a policy for the circular economy. Phones have different courses after a few years: They can be resold to an individual or a company that wants to repair them, given to an association or a relative, repaired to extend their career (hence the repair index) or sent for recycling.

rare soil
Praseodymium, Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium, Samarium and Gadolinium. You recognized them, didn’t you? // Source: Peggy Greb

It can have a positive impact on the environment. The rare metals that have already been mined and already used in smartphones avoid looking for them in the ground, with all that that might entail in terms of degrading fauna and flora and pollution. Some of the needs could be met by these already “available” materials.

The third table is the reduction in foreign dependence: these precious resources must be imported, and the corona crisis has revealed through the health sector with the issue of making masks the importance of having its own national capacity, its own access to resources.

This last argument also appears in the France Relance plan with the issue of securing key supplies. Reducing the dependence of French and European electronics manufacturing on third countries is one of the axes of this program. And to make electronics, you need specific materials.

An environmental idea with contours to be specified

The encryption of the measure put forward by Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team has not yet been determined. In any case, the equation requires finding a balance between sufficient incentive for the public, an economic interest in the sector, but also the number of smartphones that could be recycled, and the sector’s capacity to absorb this potential surplus of devices.

If the approach gives good results, it can spread. So why not do the same for all the connected objects that we receive and that we do not use, but also for computers, monitors, tablets, peripherals of any kind, televisions? Rare resources are also used in these objects.

The proposal formulated by the LREM camp is certainly not entirely new in the public debate. We find similar clues in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s program, albeit with broader wording on the creation of a national network of waste collection centers, recycling and more generally the establishment of a zero waste France.

The implementation of this measure will depend on the outcome of the presidential election, first and then on its legislative course. And finally how the idea will be received by the public. Meanwhile, it should still be noted that smartphone recycling already exists. It certainly does not give you anything, but it’s free. Just remember to delete all your data.

Leave a Comment