Flower power solutions for discarded mobile phones

Researchers at the University of Warwick have devised a way of disposing of your old mobile phone while adding some benefit to the environment - bury it in the ground and watch flowers grow from its casing.

Mobile phones have one of the shortest life spans of any consumer electronic goods and are quickly discarded when customers upgrade their phones. However, there is increasing pressure on manufacturers to find ways to recycle through such things as the WEEE directive.

Dr Kerry Kirwan, a research fellow at the School of Manufacturing in the University, told edie that roughly 120 million mobile phones are thrown away every year in Europe. “And even if they do enter the recycling stream, the plastic is of little or no value. So we thought, rather than trying to recycle them, we’ll try to work out a way to remove them from the waste stream altogether.”

The University of Warwick team believe their new casing product could go some way to helping solve this problem. Developed in association with hi-tech materials company PVAXX R&D Ltd, the case is made from a bio-degradable polymer which is lightweight with a high quality finish but which biodegrades easily in compost.

“A lot of phone covers are interchangeable so consumers can easily take them apart and dispose of them. And, if the consumer is taking them apart, and disposing of the inner-electronic components appropriately, then this will save manufacturers time and money dealing with their WEEE obligations,” Peter Morris, Project Manager at PVAXX told edie news.

Dr Kirwan told edie that, in addition, they had to make the cases stand out from other mobile phone casings to make them unique and desirable to consumers. To do this the engineers have created a small transparent window in the case or cover in which they can embed a seed. The seed is visible to the phone user but will not germinate until the phone cover or case is recycled. Researchers worked closely with the University’s horticultural arm – Warwick HRI – to identify which types of seeds would perform best in this situation. Prototype phones are using dwarf sunflower seeds but could incorporate tree seeds in the future.

Mr Morris said his team was now looking for further applications for their biodegradable polymer and that it would be suitable for such things as computer cases, keyboards, car components, and compostable bags and tags.

Dr Kirwan said he hoped to see this technology in use and on the shelves of the shops in one or two years and that phone giant Motorola is now sponsoring a full time student to look at ways of utilising this technology for the mobile phone industry.

By David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie