Making mobile phones greener

Making mobile phones greener

As stakeholders and governments are striving to lessen the environmental impact of mobile phones, mobile phone producers are moving to meet the demands of an eco-conscious society.

Mobile phone use has grown rapidly with subscriptions surpassing 4 billion by end 2008 according to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) figures. Market research organisation Gartner estimates 1.22 billion handsets were sold in 2008. Mobile phone manufacturers are now introducing models which reduce their environmental impact.

The European Commission Integrated Product Policy (IPP) pilot project on mobile phones evaluated the environmental impact of mobile phones throughout their life cycle. The project involved manufacturers, operators, government organisations and environmental interest groups.

The final report called measures which include: an environmental index for mobile phones similar to the energy-efficiency index for white goods; and campaigns to encourage users to adopt sustainable habits, such as unplugging chargers and responsible end-of-life disposal. Phone manufacturer Nokia estimates that if only 10% of the world’s mobile phone users unplugged chargers after use, enough energy would be saved to power 60 000 European homes annually.

The EU has taken a significant step towards reducing waste by convincing mobile phone producers to harmonise chargers. The move announced in June 2009 followed a request from the Commission for a voluntary commitment, negating the need for legislation. Consumers will benefit from lower prices, as this reusability will mean new phones will not have to come with new chargers – preventing old chargers becoming electronic waste.

Solar-powered phones Solar-powered phones

Korean manufacturer Samsung unveiled its first solar-cell mobile phone at the 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Blue Earth phone uses plastics recycled from water bottles, and both handset and charger are free of toxic materials. A full solar charge – 10 to 14 hours – provides power for four hours of talk time.

In early 2009, phone operator Digicel – which services developing countries across the Caribbean, Central America and the South Pacific – launched the Coral-200-Solar, claimed to be the world’s first ultra-low-cost solar-powered mobile phone. The objective is to bring mobile communications to 2 billion people with limited access to electricity.

The phone uses innovative technology developed by Netherlands solar-power specialist Intivation that works in any mobile phone. A step-up converter increases the output of the solar cell to 3.7 V to charge the phone’s lithium-ion battery, increasing the cell’s efficiency. This cuts the cost of production as the solar cell can be smaller. Contracting Chinese company ZTE to manufacture the phone further reduced costs.


The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive

The ‘E-Waste’ Directive places responsibility on producers to finance and facilitate the collection, recycling and processing of mobile phones. This Directive aims to reduce the environmental impact of all electrical and electronic goods. By increasing reuse and recycling, the amount going to landfill will be cut. In December 2008, the Commission proposed to revise the existing Directive to increase appropriate treatment of e-waste.

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