After waiting for a month, Ajanta Sikdar Singh, a resident of Faridabad, near Delhi, gave up the idea of selling her old Nokia Asha 200 phone. She wanted to sell the phone to fund her purchase of a more updated handset. A mobile store near her home offered the 34-year-old just 500 for the 4,500 phone. “Then I tried online classifieds. But there too I didn’t get my asking price ( 1,000)," says Singh, who now owns an iPhone 5s and uses the semi-functional Asha 200, which needs to be charged every 2 hours, as a backup.

Singh may have given up but the demand for second-hand phones is growing. Amarjit Singh Batra, chief executive officer of consumer-to-consumer marketplace OLX.in, says, “More and more people want to buy used mobile phones, since they give them the opportunity to upgrade their lifestyle at an affordable cost."

“There has been," he says, “a rise in the number of phone ads on our website (at present there are more than 2.3 million ads for phones, including major brands like Samsung, Apple, Nokia, BlackBerry and Sony), as well as an increase in the search for smartphones (compared to regular ones)."

“Phones have now become a style statement—and like fashion trends, they are changing and evolving every day, be it in looks, features, or even price. Owing to the great influx of mobile phones, the consumer is spoilt for choice. Hence, an average consumer changes his phone every six-eight months," says Aamir Jariwala, co-founder of New Delhi-based start-up Karma Recycling, which sells second-hand electronic devices; it offers to evaluate the value of your gadget and trade it in for cash or in-store credit.

In 2013, India had the highest number of smartphone users—117 million—after China and the US, according to a May 2014 report by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.

“India has a huge second-hand market," Jariwala says, “but when it comes to mobile phones, it is still in the nascent stage (in the seller’s context)."

“Consumers keep hoarding phones even if they are of no use or are not fully functional," says Satish Sinha, associate director, at Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based non-profit working in the field of toxics and waste.

For sellers, not getting the right price for their old phone is a big deterrent. Among the people we spoke to, then, most preferred to keep the older devices as backup or pass them on to relatives, even domestic help, rather than sell them at a percieved “loss".

Hyderabad-based Atul Prakash Singh, for instance, has just bought a Nokia Lumia 630—his fifth phone in six months. The 36-year-old likes to buy a new handset whenever a new, updated one hits the market. He has given his old phone, the Asus Zenfone 4, to a family member—the same routine that he followed with the other older devices. He has spent so much money on these phones, he says, that it’s better if someone in the family gets to use a newish phone rather than him selling it for a song.

Like Ajanta Sikdar Singh, Abhishek Jindal of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, too tried online classifieds to sell his Nokia Lumia 520 so that he could upgrade to a Samsung Galaxy Grand 2, but didn’t get an attractive offer. “Selling a 10,000 phone for 2,000 didn’t make any sense to me," says Jindal. Jalandhar-based Mohit Sroa’s efforts to sell his iPhone 4, more than a year old, failed too. So they’re holding on to them.

The simple fact is that a phone that costs 20,000 today will get you 12,000 at the most if you sell it 12 months down the line. The factors that influence resale price are the condition of the device, and whether the phone manufacturer still produces that model or not—if not, the value goes down even futher.

Priceonomics, a San Francisco, US, based data-crawling firm that helps start-ups, hedge funds and consulting firms access online data, has analysed the numbers. Based on the sales numbers from various shopping websites globally, including eBay, it concludes that an iPhone continues to have value for longer than a BlackBerry or Android smartphone. “After using your iPhone for 18 months, it still retains 53% (of its value) versus 42% for Android, and 41% for BlackBerry," it says.

Secure the data

For consumers, a major worry associated with resale is data. Most users don’t completely delete the information stored in their phone (or memory card) before discarding it. This means anyone who gets his hands on that phone can access all the information. This could include your photographs, contact details or, worse still, banking passwords. If you’re not certain that you have wiped the phone’s storage, hold on to it.

Software can, however, help you transfer and delete data. “We use custom tools to wipe out consumer-added data, like photographs, Word files and music, and reset operating system data to factory setting using the SysTools technology," says Jariwala.

Selling it as scrap

A small percentage of consumers, says Sinha, sell the phones to the kabadiwallah (scrap dealer), who extracts the precious metals and dumps the rest in landfills, where it is burnt with the other waste.

This, of course, can contaminate the air, soil and groundwater. Currently though, mobile phones account for a mere 2% of the 1.2 million tonnes of electronic waste, or e-waste, generated annually in India, according to a 2014 study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) and US-based consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Sinha believes the government should increase the visibility of registered e-waste recyclers by setting up collection centres, possibly in each neighbourhood, use the social media to educate people about the importance of green recycling of e-waste, and teach students about this in schools and colleges too.

A longer life

One option could be to increase the life of a used product, says Sinha.

This is where companies like Karma Recycling and Attero, an electronic asset management company, step in. Attero collects e-waste from around 500 cities across 25 states. It extends the life of electronics by refurbishing them and extracts metals like gold, silver, copper, iron and aluminium, which are then sold, from end-of-life electronics. The refurbished items are sold online through www.gobol.in. “We also have an online service (www.atterobay.com) to collect used electronics directly from consumers and we incentivise them for giving it to us," says Rohan Gupta, chief operating officer.

It’s just a beginning.

•••••••••••••••

What people did with their old cellphones.

Ashish Singh Parmar, 25, information technology professional, Jaipur

Old phone: Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2

Why the switch: Parmar wanted to keep up with his friends and family, all of whom owned phones with updated features. He sold his Duos 2 in a take-back offer to an e-waste recycler. He used the 1,500 he received for the new phone.

Pranav Krishna, 29, Graphic designer, New Delhi

Old phone: iPhone 4

Why the switch: He upgraded to iPhone 5s after his iPhone 4 stopped working because of a technical glitch. He doesn’t want to sell the old phone because it won’t fetch a good price—and he doesn’t want to dispose of it either since he spent “too much money on it".

Avikal Somvanshi, 27, architect, Allahabad

Old phone: Nokia 220

Why the switch: He wanted a phone that offered services like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. He gave his old phone to his mother.

Priyanka Pathak, 29, theatre actor, New Delhi

Old phone: Panasonic T21

Why the switch: She shifted from the Panasonic T21 to Moto G (second generation) because her old phone was heating too much. She doesn’t want to sell or dispose of her old phone because “you never know when this may come in handy".

Charanjot Rehani, 32

Latest handset: Nokia 930, in December

Old phone: iPhone 4

Why the switch: A slow processor prompted the switch. She sold her old phone at an electronics goods store.

Mohit Sroa, 25 student, Jalandhar

Old phone: iPhone 5s

Why the switch: After using an iPhone for more than a year, Sroa wanted to switch to an Android phone, for no particular reason. He tried selling his old phone, but didn’t get the asking price. “Besides, it has some of my data, which I haven’t transferred to my new phone," he says.

Priya Dharshini, 29, student, Madurai

Old phone: Nokia 113

Why the switch: She had had the Nokia 113 for more than three years. In November, her mother gifted her a Samsung Galaxy S Duos, which offers many updated features. Her Nokia is in the drawer—as a backup. “It’s in perfect condition, and I’m too attached to it to let go of it," she says.

Abhishek Jindal, 25, financial consultant, Ghaziabad

Old phone: Nokia Lumia 520

Why the switch: Jindal upgraded to the Galaxy Grand 2 from the Nokia Lumia 520 because he wanted a better camera. He tried selling the old phone online but didn’t get an attractive offer. He now uses both phones.

Purnima Mahajan, 26, architect, Jammu

Old phone: Samsung Galaxy Y

Why the switch: Poor battery backup prompted her to shift from Galaxy Y to Galaxy S4. She doesn’t want to dispose of her old phone because “in a crisis situation, it can come in handy".

Pradeep Kumar Thapa, 34, call centre employee, Kolkata

Old phone: HTC Desire 816

Why the switch: More features and a faster processor prompted Thapa to buy the Moto G (second generation). His old phone now lies in his closet. He’s aware of e-waste disposal and take-back offers but doesn’t want to try either.

Anil Sharma, 51, self-employed, Aligarh

Old phone: Nokia Asha 502

Why the switch: He had been using Nokia Asha 502 for three years before switching to a faster, more updated Samsung Duos in December. The Nokia phone is now being used by his wife, who has given her old phone to their housekeeper.

Vikram Singh, 23, student, Aligarh

Old phone: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Why the switch: Singh purchased the Sony Xperia Z Ultra because he wanted more storage space and a better camera. He sold his Galaxy Nexus to a classmate.

Vishal Mathur contributed to this story.

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