No matter how conscious of your carbon footprint you want to be, your electronics may be where your ability to be green falls apart. MP3 players, cell phones and computers—extracting the oil, copper and precious metals, manufacturing them and powering them--put tons of green house gases into the atmosphere. When users are done with their devices, a lot of those phones, and the resources they contain, get dumped into the landfill, despite the fact there is a huge market for used phones, and the fact that cell phones are mostly recyclable. According to the EPA, if Americans recycled the 100 million cell phones they discard each year, it would save enough energy to power 18,500 homes for a year.
Right now, only about 10% are recycled. To try and bump up the numbers and recover the phones being dumped in landfills or stored in people's office junk drawers, the EPA initiated the Plug into eCycling National Cell Phone eCycling Week. It was April 6-12, but just because you didn't recycle your phone that week, it doesn’t mean that you should chuck it in the trash or leave it in a drawer where it’s becoming increasingly out of date. The EPA teamed up with many of the biggest cell phone service providers and phone manufacturers to promote the week, including Sprint, which committed to collecting 250,000 phones for recycling--25% more than last year. But Sprint, and others, didn't limit its efforts to one week only. In fact, Sprint is offering an on-going buy back of Sprint phones, and accepting any company’s phones and accessories for recycling as part of its Zer0 e-Waste policy.
Motorola, one of the EPA partners for the cell recycling initiative, is taking it a step further. It’s created the W233 Renew phone. It’s a regular cell phone—not a blackberry or iPhone knockoff—that uses recycled water bottles in its housing (about 25%). The housing is recyclable, and making it uses 20 percent less energy than virgin plastic processes. It’s the first Motorola phone to come with an in-box, postage-paid recycling envelope for your old phone (please use it or it becomes trash).
So what? Those stats on the Renew shows that Motorola is headed in the right direction. Do we wish they went even further, and made a fully recycled phone, including the internal electronics. Yes. That would be a coup.
What is exciting: Renew is the world’s first carbon neutral mobile device, and its carbon neutrality is based on a cradle to grave assessment. What does that mean in plain English? Motorola calculated the energy that it took to manufacture the phone from raw materials, to package it up and send it to stores, to get in into your hands. Then it calculated the energy that would be consumed each time you plugged it in to charge it for your entire two-year contract, and what it would take to recycle it at the end of its life. Then, Motorola purchased carbon offsets for all the energy each Renew phone will use over its life, approximately 22 pounds of CO2 per phone.
Not only is the Renew carbon neutral, it’s affordable--$51 from Motorola, $60 from T-Mobile with accessories. The long-lasting battery stayed juiced for almost nine hours of talk time, so ultimately you charge it less over its lifetime. Plus, it’s got reduced packaging, and weighs a mere 3 ounces, which means it contains less materials by weight than a lot of other phones.
What to do if you don't have T-Mobile? Find out if your carrier is participating in the EPA's initiatives, and what else it's doing to reduce its impact.
EPA also has programs to recycle computers and other electronics. Check out its partners here.