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A Sustainable Cellphone: It’s in Our Hands

A Sustainable Cellphone: It’s in Our Hands
Innovation
Allison Mooney
  • 30 december 2008

In 2009 and beyond, many of us are hoping for greener gadgets that add a “con” to their science. As one of the most pervasive modern technologies, mobile phones are a great place to start. How can they be—and help us be—more eco-friendly? Treehugger recently posted a sustainability wish list, which is more attainable than you might have thought.

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Be it solar, talking, bouncing or anything else, we wish our smart phones could collect the energy needed to run them by utilizing the energy resources around them. While we can somewhat accomplish this, such as charging up with a solar or wind charger, it isn’t yet integrated into phones.

>> Debuted in 2006, PedalPower+ let’s you charge your mobile phone from bicycle power. It also has a built in Solar Energy system. In January 2007, Motorola announced a similar battery charger that is powered by bike, but we haven’t heard anything about since, and there is nothing about it on their site. Why aren’t these technologies in greater use? Perhaps they would be used more if they were pre-installed, but where’s the demand?

Effortless Carbon Emissions Tracking

While ever-improving carbon emissions trackers are being created as we speak, there still isn’t an entirely effortless way to track our impact. Most of the time, apps require our (admit it) flawed input for things like trips. We might forget short excursions, fudge on distances, or make other calculation errors in our input and get inaccurate emissions data back. Having a way to get our daily carbon emissions from each action we take, without thinking about it at all, would be pretty great.

>> We’re on this one. An iPhone app called UbiGreen (pictured), developed by Intel and the University of Washington, uses the accelerometer to sense whether you’re in a plane, train, or car to let you know exactly what your carbon footprint is. Unfortunately it won’t be released for another year.

Be Manufactured Responsibly and Made to Last

Phones are practically disposable. They have an average use length of 18 months before they’re replaced with the latest and greatest. We want our smart phones to be made with eco-friendly materials in a plant that ensures it has the lowest possible carbon footprint. We want it to be made to last longer than 10 years, and be upgradable so that as new technologies are unleashed, we can make small changes to our existing phones to keep up. And we want them to be 100% recyclable at the end of their very long lives.

>> Good luck holding onto a cellphone for ten years (we’ve “recycled” quite a few in cabs), and the products themselves will likely change dramatically in shape and size in that time span. But preventing the eWaste created by cellphones is an absolute must, and we should strive to these ideals. In the meantime, here are some working options:

  • Call2Recycle collects used phones from consumers and retailers and sells them back to manufacturers, which either refurbish and resell them or recycle their parts for use in making new products. Find a nearby dropbox by entering your zipcode on their website.
  • CollectiveGood takes used cell phones, refurbishes them, and then re-sells them to distributors and carriers for use primarily in developing countries. They also recycle all non-functioning batteries through a partnership with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation.
  • ReCellular manages in-store collection programs and maintains partnerships with nonprofits that undertake cell phone collection drives as a way of funding their charitable work.
  • A few states have mandated electronics recycling including California and Maine, and New York passed similar legislation that requires cell phone service providers to collect retired cell phones for recycling reuse, or environmentally sound disposal. Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia are also considering similar legislation.

Legislation will be the key to meaningful progress, but so will consumer demand. Creating a business case for greening our gadgets can help make this entire wishlist a reality. Use what is currently available, demonstrate the need for more, and drive innovation.

Personally, we’d like our reception to be more sustained, but that’s another story…

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