Mobile phone manufacturers urged to explore circular economy

Mobile phone manufacturers have been urged to implement a new business model that accounts for longer-lasting batteries and greater recyclability options as customers become disillusioned with the frequency of model upgrades.

That is the findings of a new Greenpeace study, which surveyed 6,000 people from the US, China, Mexico, Russia, Germany and South Korea in an attempt to form an understanding of consumer attitudes towards mobile phone upgrades.

According to the survey, consumers would be open to the concept of a ‘closed-loop detox’ which would see mobile phone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and LG, improve the life cycles of mobile phones by accounting for recyclability and fewer upgrade periods.

“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 benefited from good product design,” a statement from the survey read. “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.”

According to the survey, 90% of respondents consider a longer-lasting battery, which requires less charging, as an important feature for a smartphone. More than 80% of the respondents also want new phones to be easily repairable, designed to last and produced without the use of hazardous chemicals.

The survey also found that more than half of the respondents would be okay with upgrading their phone less often, while more than half also believe that manufacturers should be responsible for making mobile phone recycling accessible.

Closed-loop detox

With less than 5% of respondents revealing that they’ve repaired their own phones by themselves, Greenpeace has launched a new campaign aimed at improving the IT sector’s willingness to embrace closed-loop models, while also reducing the number of chemicals used in the production phased.

The “Closed-Loop Detox” portal communicates the benefits of a new business model to consumers, while also offering videos on how individuals can repair and reuses their own phones.

The survey arrives just one week after mobile phone provider O2 revealed that its customers had saved more than £135m since 2009, by recycling two million old mobiles through the company’s Think Big programme.

Apple has also ventured into the repair market, launching an innovative recycling robot named Liam to regain valuable materials from discarded iPhones.

Research from the University of Surrey has also added weight to idea of less frequent mobile upgrades. Researchers claimed that the ‘frequent upgrades’ business model for mobile phones is not fit for purpose if the industry is to deliver the transformational change needed to create a sustainable future.

Matt Mace

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