Mobile (cell) phone manufacturers claim to go green … well, let’s see

Posted: March 4, 2009 in science & technology
Tags: ,

Phones answer the green call

eco-phone1

Mobile makers are improving their environmental credentials, writes Richard Wray.

A man checks his phone below a giant poster at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. PICTURE: APA man checks his phone below a giant poster at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. PICTURE: AP

Perhaps. After years of being criticised by environmental campaigners for their poor green credentials, companies were falling over each other at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the sector’s biggest annual get-together, to proclaim their transformation. The industry’s trade body, the GSM Association, has corralled handset makers and mobile networks to create a universal mobile phone charger (hopefully to be introduced later in the year), as chargers often outlast phones.

Meanwhile, LG and Samsung unveiled handsets with built-in solar panels: 10 minutes of sunlight and you can make a short phone call. Samsung has a track record in green technology and its current SGH-F268 was named by Greenpeace in its most recent audit as the “world’s greenest mass-market phone”. LG has pledged to remove brominated flame retardants, chlorinated flame retardants and PVC from its manufacturing process by next year. Both companies are also working hard to create “green” packaging, even down to the use of soy-based inks instead of traditional dyes.

Last year, Nokia unveiled a green concept clamshell phone named Remade. While the Finnish giant – which makes four out of every 10 handsets sold worldwide – did not show any new green devices, its chief executive, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, told the press that “being green should be about more than creating one-off green devices and features”. The company can recycle phones in 85 countries and its chargers are greener than most, but we are still waiting for the Remade to make it into production. Greenpeace named Nokia’s 6210 Navigator as the greenest smartphone in its survey – although it scored lower than Samsung’s device.

China’s biggest handset manufacturer, ZTE, has its sights set on the developing world, where a solar panel could help in areas where electricity supply is patchy or relies upon environmentally unfriendly diesel generators. Those generators are also often used to power the mobile phone masts that provide signals in rural areas. Several mast providers were displaying solar and even wind-powered masts at the show. Digicel, which has operations in areas such as the South Pacific islands, is one of many companies rolling out solar-powered base stations.

However, the mobile phone industry has a long way to go before it can count itself as “green”, because the industry retains customers by throwing ever shinier mobile phones at them, based on replacement cycles of one to two years. Ultimately, “green” phones need to be accompanied with proper recycling programs. Steps are being taken – just ask your operator how you can dispose of your old handset in an environmentally friendly way – but too many old mobiles are still cropping up in landfill sites in the developing world.

[Guardian via Sydney Morning Herald]

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