Greenpeace calls on phone producers to take responsibility for resource use

Greenpeace calls on phone producers to take responsibility for resource use
Phone manufacturers are releasing too many new models and should be responsible for recycling their products, according to consumers polled by a Greenpeace survey.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori across a range of consumer cultures – the USA, Germany, Russia, Mexico, South Korea and China – on behalf of Greenpeace East Asia, found that the most respondents in each country thought that manufacturers should be made to provide consumers with the means to recycle their phones, and 80 per cent thought it was important to design a smartphone to be easy to repair.

A study of the recycling habits of those involved with the survey found that only nine per cent of German respondents had experienced having a damaged mobile phone repaired by the manufacturer, with Chinese participants having the most experience of manufacturer repair with 36 per cent.

This tallied with the finding that consumers in the East Asian countries of South Korea and China  were more likely to have had their phones repaired by anyone, including manufacturers or third parties (at 64 and 66 per cent, respectively) than those in the US or Germany, only 28 and 23 per cent of whom had ever had a phone repaired.

Phones lying around

Mobile phones are some of the most frequently replaced of all small electronics products. A United Nations University report in 2014 showed that up to three million tonnes of e-waste is generated from small IT products like mobile phones and personal computers, resulting in a huge waste of resources and producing a source of contamination from hazardous chemicals.

The amount of new models being put on the market by manufacturers, often with planned obsolescence to encourage consumers to seek regular replacements with marginal improvements, came under fire in the survey, which recorded the average number of phones owned by each respondent.

According to the poll, those in Russia own an average of 5.55 mobile phones, of which an average of 2.39 are either not in use or not in working order. In Mexico, respondents owned an average of 5.18 phones, with even German participants, who provided the lowest figure, owning an average of 3.22 phones each.

This is a trend that is prevalent in UK’s households, too. In a report published by the Green Alliance think tank in February 2015, it was found that there are up to 125 million smartphones lying unused in UK homes, despite the value of their components. The parts of a discarded two-year-old iPhone, it claimed, could be worth up to £170 – nearly one third of the original sales value of the device.

Environmental strain

Hanging onto phones and constantly replacing them does not seem to be a conscious choice by many consumers. More than half of the respondents surveyed in all countries by the Greenpeace poll agreed that mobile phone manufacturers release too many models each year, and most said that they would be happy with changing their model less often.

Indeed, over 86 per cent of respondents in all countries listed a phone being ‘designed to last’ as one of the most important features of a new model.

However, Chih An Lee, Global IT Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, says that the lack of longevity and the obscure repair, reuse and recycling options in the mobile phone industry are causing significant environmental damage: “The humble smartphone puts enormous strain on our environment from the moment they are produced – often with hazardous chemicals – to the moment they are disposed of in huge e-waste sites.

“We believe true innovation means gadgets designed to last, to be repaired and recycled. It is time for tech leaders to rethink the way they make our electronics so that they are as innovative for our planet as they are for our lives. If tech brands want to lead us into the future, they need to move towards closed-loop production and embrace the circular economy – something that can be good for their profits, for people and for the planet.

“Over half of respondents across the countries surveyed agree that manufacturers are releasing too many new models, many designed to only last a few years. In fact, most users actually want their phones to be more easily dismantled, repaired and recycled.”

Greenpeace seeking ‘True Innovation’

In addition to criticising phone manufacturers, almost half of those polled in Germany and Mexico said that mobile network providers offer upgrades too often, bringing about unnecessary waste.

Earlier this year, another report produced by Green Alliance looking at O2’s recycling service and SIM-only contracts found that mobile phone users in the UK are now keeping their phones for 15 per cent longer, on average, than they did in 2012. In addition, it concluded that SIM-only customers now use their phones for six months longer and produce less than half the yearly emissions as those on two-year contracts.

To combat the issues caused by the mobile phone industry and other technology sectors, Greenpeace has announced its new ‘True Innovation’ campaign, which is focusing on energy and toxic chemical issues caused from production to end-of-life in the tech and IT industry. The global organisation says that the campaign will challenge the technology sector to embrace innovation to ‘protect our environment and our future’.

In a statement responding to the results of its survey, Greenpeace wrote: ‘True innovation should strive to improve economic and environmental goals simultaneously. Mobile phone manufacturers – who are responsible for providing recycling services, according to most of the respondents – can be economically benefitted from good product design.

‘The new product design should take recycling into consideration from the beginning of the production phase, using the recycled materials instead of virgin materials, and making the products easier to be dismantled at the end.

‘We challenge the information technology sector to move towards closed-loop production and embrace the circular economy. Designing for durability, and recycling to extend product lifespan not only enables the materials to be reused, but can also generate revenues for manufacturers.

‘It is time for the technology leaders to rethink the way they make our electronic gadgets, to reshape the economic model for the environment and for people, and eventually to lead the world to a brighter future.’

More information about Greenpeace’s ‘True Innovation’ campaign can be found on the organisation’s website.

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