Vendors split over reuse of mobile gear

Mobile phone components can be reused in toys and even medical devices, says Sony Ericsson, but not all mobile makers are keen to venture in this direction.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Mobile phone components can be reused in consumer and medical devices, Sony Ericsson says, but it remains to be seen if other mobile makers are keen to step in this direction.

Sony Ericsson's head of corporate sustainability Mats Pellback-Scharp, said earlier this month in a interview with BusinessGreen.com, that a growing number of companies are realizing it is more cost-effective to buy color displays, cameras and touchscreen technologies from old handsets, rather than build these components from scratch.

Mobile recycling volumes are "now at a scale where it is perfectly feasible for companies to take the old components and reuse them", Pellback-Scharp said, adding that there are already devices in the market today that contain Sony Ericsson's old mobile components.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Hirokazu Ishizuka, Sony Ericsson's corporate vice president and Asia-Pacific head, said the company aims to collect 1 million used mobile phones annually under its global "takeback" program from 2011. As part of its environmental sustainability efforts, Sony Ericsson is targeting to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2015.

Specifically in the reuse of mobile components, the phone maker has been involved in developing guidance documents that cover various aspects such as design, collection, refurbishment, recycling and trans-border movement, he added.

"No" for Nokia
At least one handset manufacturer, however, has expressed concerns over the resale of components to a third party. Finnish mobile giant Nokia told ZDNet Asia it does not sell mobile components to third parties for use in other devices "because of safety and ethical issues".

But, the company is focused on component and material recycling, said Francis Cheong, the company's environmental affairs manager for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. For instance, plastic can be recycled and reprocessed into items such as safety cones and plastic pallets, he said in an e-mail.

Metals derived from used mobile devices can also serve a variety of purposes, he noted. Stainless steel, which is used for phone covers, external detailing and internal components, can be adapted for kitchen ware and bicycle frames. Copper, used in circuitry, can be tapped for piping in homes or musical instruments such as saxophones. Gold and platinum extracts can be turned into dental fillings or jewelry.

According to Cheong, a global study by Nokia last year found only 3 percent of mobile users recycle their old or unused phones. He said the mobile vendor observed that people are actually keen to recycle their mobile phones "if they are aware of easy and convenient ways to do so".

A 2008 estimate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated that 150 million handsets were retired on an annual basis but less than 20 percent were recycled.

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