Samsung's turned smartphone recycling into a race for perfection

The company's Display arm is setting new standards for sustainability, and winning awards in the process.


Samsung Display, the electronic giant's manufacturing arm, earned a Platinum Grade certification from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for its zero waste efforts, according to The Korea Herald. This is the highest certification available and the latest feather in Samsung’s sustainability cap. In June, the company’s international semiconductor sites received a Zero Waste to Landfill Gold validation from the UL. Samsung’s current policy sets it on track to use 1,600 tons less plastic each year.

Why does this matter? Because when one of the world's three largest smartphone makers takes these steps it forces the rest of the industry to pay attention... and try to match it. We'd prefer electronics companies to make these sorts of moves unbidden, but we'll gladly settle for fear of losing a competitive edge as a motivator.

What does this grade mean? — The UL is based in Illinois and was established in 1894, making it the oldest and one of the biggest independent testing labs in the country. UL’s platinum certification is reserved for manufacturing sites that recycle all of their industrial waste. Gold and silver certifications are awarded to those hitting 95 to 99 and 90 to 94 percent, respectively.

“The first Platinum grade certification means that Samsung Display is making efforts at a different level,” Jeong Hyun-seok, president of UL Korea told The Korea Herald.

Samsung Display has reportedly recycled impurities from its manufacturing process since 2014. It also has a resource circulation center that separates and decomposes different products, and it reuses metals for new floors at its plants.

Samsung and sustainability — Earlier this year, Samsung’s sustainability report revealed just how far the major electronics company has come. It’s on track to only use renewable energy by the end of the year. Samsung has also been shifting away from plastic packaging towards more eco-friendly alternatives. The company introduced packaging for its TVs earlier this year that can transform into a cardboard cat house or magazine rack, for instance.

Samsung intends to use 500,000 tons of recycled plastics by 2030. In 2019, about 30,000 tons of recycled plastics were used in product manufacturing. It has multiple programs specifically tailored to the recycling or upcycling of its Galaxy devices. As one of the most prominent manufacturers in the world, particularly of the toxic-waste-heavy electronics and appliances, Samsung's drive towards sustainability is an important example to be set for the industry at large. Let's hope it makes its rivals blush, and rush to catch up.