Thursday, December 4, 2008

'Green' phones remain far from reach

Makers of mobile phones produce few "green" models with biodegradable, recycled, or fully recyclable materials. And although most vendors offer recycling options, less than five percent of the world's handsets will be recycled ethically in the end, according to a report released by ABI Research Monday.

Cell phones are a growing source of potentially toxic electronics waste. Among some 150 million handsets retired every year, fewer than 20 percent are recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Nokia's Remade concept phone would use recycled and recyclable materials inside and out.
(Credit: Nokia)

However, it's unprofitable for most companies to release dedicated eco-friendly models on a massive scale, the ABI report suggested.

"Instead, the effort is towards compliance and the trickling down of proven green elements throughout entire product lines," Kevin Burden, the firm's research director, said in a statement.

Expanded regulation and corporate initiatives have reduced the use of toxic ingredients in electronics. The European Union's Reduction of Hazardous Substances rules have pushed nearly all major vendors to cut or exclude heavy metals, PVC, and brominated flame retardants.

ABI Research cited Samsung, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson as advancing efforts to make mobile phones even greener. Those brands also were at the top of the heap in the latest quarterly Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.

Samsung released three models encased in corn-based plastic this summer in Asia and Europe.

Among this year's concept designs, Nokia's Remade flip phone cell uses recycled cans, plastic bottles, and car tires. Nokia says that up to 60 percent of the metal in its available handsets comes from recycled materials.

Sony Ericsson described in September a GreenHeart concept comprising recycled and plant-based plastics. If produced, it would consume only 3.5 milliwatts in standby mode.

A notable entrant in this year's Greener Gadgets Design Competition was the Bamboo concept handset. If buried in the ground, it would biodegrade, freeing embedded bamboo seeds to sprout a plant.

The ABI report notes a Nokia survey in which 76 percent of respondents said they preferred to buy from businesses that promote environmental responsibility.

Various other consumer polls have indicated that a small but growing percentage of shoppers seek to buy green electronics, and some will accept a price premium.

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