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Sprint Re:cycle

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At the end of 2011, Sprint had collected more than 34 million mobile devices (3,918 metric tons) for reuse and recycling, helping to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent air and water pollution. This measure stretches back to 2001 when the Sprint Buyback program, one of the company's primary takeback channels, was introduced.

The details on annual collections can be viewed in the following table. Results for years prior to 2011 include devices received via Sprint Buyback and Sprint Project Connect as well as damaged devices and those in need of repair that were received and replaced through Sprint's Insurance and Service & Repair programs. As Sprint has refined the accuracy of its reporting process, it has become evident that those results reflect only a portion of the devices received through Sprint Service & Repair.

As the company's records make it challenging to go back and capture the missing numbers, the amount of devices reflected for 2001 to 2010 will be left standing, understated as they may be. Starting with 2011, the reporting process for collections now fully accounts for all devices noted above. It also includes Sprint's Satisfaction Guarantee Returns and Exchanges which are explained below.

Mobile devices collected annually by Sprint (in Metric Tons)1
  2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Total
Devices (MT) 29.2 96.6 174.5 231.3 243.0 262.6 362.6 393.4 421.9 447.3 1255.9 3918.3

1Estimated weight of devices collections is based on average of 113.4 grams per handset which make up the vast majority of devices collected.

Sprint was the first in the industry to announce an ambitious, long-term goal for device collections. Its target is to collect nine devices for reuse and recycling for every 10 devices it sells annually by 2017 — a 90 percent collection rate. Sprint's collection rate for 2011 was 40 percent, nearly half way to its goal. This is quite an accomplishment, considering on average only 10 percent of mobile devices in the U.S. are turned in for recycling. See the following table to view the trend behind Sprint's annual collection rate since the goal was originally announced. The rate is essentially all devices collected (the numerator) divided by all devices sold (the denominator).

Sprint's device collection rate for recycling and reuse2
Fiscal Year Collection Rate
2011 40%
2010 36%
2009 42%
2008 34%
2007 22%

The main factor contributing to the rise in the collection rate from 2010 to 2011 was stellar performance by the in-store Sprint Buyback program (an element in the numerator). The year-over-year increase in collections for this channel was nearly 120 percent. This increase was tempered by a couple of factors. First, collections for the Sprint Satisfaction Guarantee policy returns and exchanges were down 12 percent (another element in the numerator); driving this change were continued improvements in the quality of newly launched devices and a narrowing of the policy window from 30 to 14 days. Second, an eight percent increase in Insurance Exchanges (an element in the denominator); as more customers buy sophisticated and valuable devices, more are willing to pay an Insurance deductible to replace those devices when they are damaged or lost.

The methodology for calculating the rate has evolved as Sprint continues to strengthen the accuracy of its reporting. Prior to 2011, the numerator for collections included devices received via Sprint Buyback, Sprint Project Connect, Insurance and Service & Repair. The denominator for device sales included Gross Adds and Upgrades minus Policy Returns. Challenges inherent with the old methodology involve assumptions that understated the number of devices collected via Service & Repair and a formula that ignored some returns while double-counting others. Everything considered, Sprint is confident these discrepancies resulted in a lower numerator — and therefore a lower collection rate — from 2007-2010.

The company's historical records make it difficult to correct for these discrepancies retroactively, so annual collection rates reported for 2007 to 2010 will be left standing, understated as they may be. Instead, a new auditable methodology was adopted in 2011. It ties directly to Sprint's financial-reporting system. It also simplifies the collection rate by dividing all devices received by all devices sent out. The numerator now includes all devices received/collected from Sprint Buyback, Sprint Project Connect, Insurance, Repair, and Satisfaction Guarantee Returns and Exchanges. The denominator includes all devices that Sprint sends out/sells via the price for Gross Adds, Upgrades and Satisfaction Guarantee Exchanges, deductibles for Insurance replacements, and fees for Normal Wear & Tear replacements.

Sprint's device-collection programs continue to provide tremendous value to the company, capturing millions of used mobile devices, diverting them from landfills, and even helping Sprint to avoid more than $1 billion in cost. They supply handsets that can be remanufactured by Sprint and used in place of new devices to support its Service & Repair operations, Insurance program, and customers who are seeking to save money by purchasing pre-owned, certified phones.