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Eco-Friendly Mobile Phones

2012-09-11


Man’s first technological advance, the use of fire for hunting and cooking food, occurred in the Paleolithic era. Centuries later, technology encompasses a broader scope of industries and monumental advances in the field are made each decade. In the 21st century, the focus has changed from technology for creating fire to technology that allows us to connect across the globe with the conveniences of speed, clarity, and reliability. But great advances have also brought serious problems: Exponential population growth, depleted natural resources, and record-high greenhouse gas emission poison the planet. Our civilization’s focus is now on environmental sustainability, and the best technology of our time is one that offers a solution to this global crisis. The greatest advance in the information and communication technology industry in the last decade is the movement of cellphone manufacturers to produce products that are environmentally friendly throughout their life cycles: in production, use, and disposal. In a short time, this movement has had great environmental impacts, reduced social injustices, and has the potential to reach the entire global population in the coming years.
The revolution for a “greener” cellphone has reduced the amount of dangerous and nonrenewable materials consumed in the production and use of cellphones. Nearly 4.5 pounds of raw materials including plastics, liquid crystal, and toxic metals are consumed to produce one mobile phone. Motorola and Samsung address this problem by manufacturing cell phones made completely of recycled materials and packaged in recycled plastics. Recycling is crucial to preserve the health of our planet. Not only does it reduce the amount of new resources mined, but it also guarantees the proper disposal of toxic materials in cellphones. Motorola has gone one step further and has introduced the first carbon neutral phone. The production and distribution of the Renew W233, introduced in 2009, does not contribute to the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon offsets made by the company reduce the amount of this greenhouse gas and slow the effects of global climate change. Hi-Tech Wealth Co., a Chinese telecommunications distributor, produced the first cellphone powered by light: the HTW S116 Solar Mobile Phone. The battery lasts 2.5 times longer than the average cellphone battery and charging the phone for an hour in the sun results in 40 minutes of cellphone life. These cellphones are on the cutting edge of technology and show the “greener” side of the telecommunications industry. By reducing the amount of raw material consumed and the emission of carbon dioxide, cellphone manufacturers are positively affecting the environment.
The movement to create eco-friendly mobile phones has spread social justice as well as benefitted humanitarian effort. Coltan, or columbite-tantalite, is a metallic ore with unique properties of storing electricity and is a key component in capacitors that regulate current flow in cellphone circuit boards. Coltan is present in most electronics but the majority of consumers are unaware of the implications their electronics have on the people and wildlife of Africa. Poor miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are forced to mine for coltan to earn a living. Because the price of coltan is so high, civil wars break out over the ore as it is smuggled out of the country. There is no replacement for coltan in cellphones but cellphone manufacturers have found other options to stop the exploitation of the people and the land. Many distribution companies like Kemet in the U.S. certify that the coltan they sell is not mined from protected areas in the Congo. They supply coltan to cellphones companies with the guarantee that it has been safely mined without harming the people or natural ecosystem of the area. The battle over coltan has increased with the heightened demand for consumer electronics that has become so rampant in the last twenty years. Only now, in the last couple years has the destruction for the metal ore been combatted with cellphone programs like Eco-Cell. This recycling program has united with zoos with the intention of creating the first “gorilla friendly” cellphone. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gorillas in the forest are killed and sold to the coltan miners as bushmeat. Eco-Cell reduces the need for coltan by refurbishing mobile phones for low-income families and donating the proceeds to gorilla conservation efforts. In the age of wi-fi and the smartphone, cell manufactures are becoming aware of the effects their products have and are willing to make changes for social well-being of others.
The environmental movement in the manufacturing of cellphones has the potential to make great changes in the industry and effect the environment for the better in the coming years. The technologies harnessed to make mobile phones eco-friendly is relatively new and will only improve with time. Advances in safer materials, cleaner energies, and efficiency improve with each discovery. The green revolution in the cellphone industry has made great strides toward a cleaner planet and there is no doubt that the positive effects will be felt worldwide. Because such a large amount of the world population owns a cell phone, about 4 billion people, the movement for eco-friendly phones has the potential to affect the environment on a global scale. Seventeen major cellphone companies are working together to reduce the waste produced by new cellphones. They have signed an agreement to design a universal charging cord for their cellphones by the year 2012. With the average person replacing his or her cellphone (and charging cord) every eighteen months, this agreement could prevent 82,000 tons of cellphone chargers from ending up in the landfills each year. The greatest aspect of this green revolution in the cellphone industry is not only the current benefits but also the future profits in environmental sustainability.
In a constantly changing world, the species that adapts the greatest is a species that survives. And in the world of technology, where each day a new improvement is made, the manufacturer that responds to the wants and needs of the people is the most profitable. In the field of information and communications, it is the telecommunications industry that has responded to our current environmental crisis with a movement for the production of the environmentally sustainable cellphones. This green revolution of cellphones is the greatest advance of the industry in the last ten years. By recycling materials and reducing the use of nonrenewable resources in the manufacturing of cellphones, companies have reduced greenhouse gases and prevented pollution. Cellphone manufacturers have taken a responsibility for their products and guarantee that no one was harmed to mine resources like coltan. The fight for “green” cellphones is relatively young and will only improve with greater effects in the coming years. Advances will always be made in the information and communication industry: images can be a little sharper, sounds can be a little clearer, and the world can be a little greener.