The mobile phone industry is notorious for its shady ethics as Mother Jones demonstrated in their 2010 interactive 'killer apps' graphic. But, forays into mobile phone leasing by O2 and Vodafone, and build-your-own kits from Google's Motorola, could mean increased sustainability in the mobile phone sector, said speakers at the Emerge 2013 conference.
At the student social entrepreneurship conference, digital coordinator at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Joe Iles, said: "We've seen O2 and Vodafone experiment with leasing phones rather than selling them in the past two years. We think leasing could represent an economic incentive to tweak the design of phones so that they're longer lasting and more sustainable.
Speaking to Pioneers Post after the Oxford event, he added: "The way we see these operations linking in with a circular economy
is in the desire from manufacturers (or in this case services providers) to recapture products and the embedded materials and energy.
He said there was clearly a massive grey market enabling companies like Mazuma Mobile
which sell and recycles old phones, to exist and capture the value of phones. And, that phone providers and the manufacturers they were linked to were now realising the value of components, which was pushing them to be less wasteful.
“So Vodafone Red Hot for example, is ensuring they get their phones back, so they can refurbish and re-sell them on to secondary markets, like emerging markets and the insurance sector,” Iles said.
At the Skoll Centre event, Fokko Wientjes, head of corporate sustainability at material sciences company Royal DSM, added: "iPhone is the worst of all, it's sealed so there's no way you can do anything about broken parts and renewing it. Just this week, we've seen Google's Motorola looking into a modular phone where parts can be replaced, this could be a step forward.”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is solely focused on the circular economy
, i.e. encouraging more sustainable products which can be reused and refurbished. It's mobile phone report
: , states: “Typically weighing less than 150 grams, a mobile phone is packed with valuable materials such as gold, silver, and rare earth metals.
“Given today’s low collection and recycling rates, nearly all of this material is lost. In Europe alone, for example, 160 million discarded but uncollected devices represent a material loss of up to $500mn annually.
“With collection rates in Europe hovering around 15% and mobile phone designs becoming increasingly integrated, there is hardly any component reuse or remanufacturing, and the secondary mobile phone market (while fast growing) is almost negligible at around 6% of the primary market.”