Would a 'device renewal' standard help the mobile phone e-waste problem?

The Device Renewal Forum seeks to create a certification for refurbishing mobile phones and wireless gadgets, citing a growing market for such devices.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Several high-profile organizations in the mobile phone industry this week called for creation of a common certification to cover refurbished mobile phones. Their stated intention is to encourage higher rates of refurbishment for the phones and wireless mobile gadgets being abandoned in favor of newer devices. With recycling rates somewhere around 1 percent of the 1.68 billion, these companies figure some coordinated measures are necessary to corral this problem.

The renewed devices could find a second home in emerging markets around the world, according to the group behind the Device Renewal Forum. Among the organizations behind the forum are Brightstar, CDMA Development Group, eRecyclingCorps, ModusLink Global Solutions, and Sprint Nextel. The effort will touch all of the wireless interface technologies, including GSM, CDMA2000, EV-DO, HSPA and LTE, according to the information released by the Device Renewal Forum. One underlying concern, as mobile device lifespans are extended, is ensuring that they don't compromise carrier network performance.

"We consider the DRF's certification process to be a key element to expand the use of renewed wireless devices across the globe by providing consumers unparalleled quality, while at the same time, protecting the operation of wireless networks," said Fared Adib, vice president of product for Sprint Nextel, in the press materials about the new initiative.

The new initiative is another high-profile example of the notion that refurbishing existing technology for a second life (or, who knows, maybe even a third life) will be an important part of the drive to reduce the rapid pace of creation for electronic waste (usually dubbed e-waste). Earlier this week, IBM opened a remanufacturing facility in China, responding not just to environmental concerns but also the desire on the part of Chinese businesses to invest in used and second-hand equipment that had been properly spruced up and revamped.

Recycling and breaking down the components is the other big way to fight e-waste, of course, but increasingly manufacturers are realizing that there is a viable business opportunity in collecting this stuff and seeing it go elsewhere. That means it is a viable opportunity for businesses, too: Increasingly, companies should look at ways that their old or castoff systems of all types -- from mobile phones to servers -- might find a home elsewhere, once the proper security concerns are handled.

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