Your Last Smartphone and Options to Control Your E-Waste

Let’s be honest. How many of you know someone with a cracked iPhone screen? If you are in the 1% without a smartphone nearby, keep with me for a second, dumb… I mean featurephones also suffer from a similar fate.

Cracked iPhone Screen, from flickr user Joe Wilcox
Cracked iPhone Screen, from flickr user Joe Wilcox

If you have insurance on your phone (which you definitely should), $100 or so and bam, a new iPhone 5 arrives at your doorstep, waiting for you to break another screen.

Sure, with Corning’s Gorilla glass, and Otterbox everythang, the likelihood of breaking your phone screen may be disappearing, but it’s still a thing, with the only option being an entirely new phone. Stop and think about that, your screen is partly broken, yet you now need to transport that phone to a recycling center (hopefully).

As the below infographic from shows, in 2012, we, the United States, only recycled 9% of our total disposal of mobile phones… you should be angry.

E-Waste what gets Recycled

Why so low? Well, as it turns out from a study conducted by fonebank (a buyer of used phones) via Fast Company Exist, there exists barriers to recycling. While phone hoarders (I have to say I have been one of those people, who then eventually recycled the phone…) don’t show up in overall discard pile for obvious reasons, nearly 20% of respondents in 2010 said that awareness was the problem to at least acknowledge that one should recycle their phone. In this infographic you will also see the energy and material input to put into electronics that could otherwise be reused.

Well, you may be wondering, great, but where do I recycle a phone?

Glad you asked, you see, the EPA has a great website that is probably way too obscure to find (might need some better SEO or marketing….), that’s right here:

Select your device and it will give you a link to that manufacturer’s website. For me, it’s easy, because, shoutout to Sprint!, when I get a new phone via Sprint, they include in the box, (or you can do it in the store where they may offer you to buy your phone, which they will most likely recycle unless it’s a pretty new phone which you shouldn’t be giving up that soon anyway), a recycle bag with prepaid postage for you to send in your old phone to then get reprocessed and reutilized for new phones. Here’s Sprint’s cute video about what they do, you can also find out more about them here

Also, your state’s DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) may have a eCycling Services Listing. Here’s Virginia’s:

So, I know what you are saying, all of this trucking, flying, that adds a lot of unnecessary Carbon when maybe I shouldn’t be upgrading every 2 years. While ultimately, that’s true, let me show you a neat plan that has a good chance of happening. Remember that I started off by saying that your only option was to replace your phone entirely, and I left you on an emotional cliffhanger? So what if I told you, it may be possible in 2 years to have a phone that you only changed the screen if it got damaged, or in the future, better screen technology existed that you could really benefit from, knowing that you would keep your phone and your old screen could be recycled?

Friends, that reality may be closer than you think:

Spurred by the sealed nature of the Apple iPhone, Dave Hakkens, an industrial design student from the Netherlands proposed a smartphone system just as a vision with no technical background for a modular phone unit as shown by the video below:

Motorola, owned by Google at the time (now sold to Lenovo), had been working on a similar project (Google Aras) with a group of Department of Defense team to produce a modular phone concept, they teamed up with Hakkens who established a large popularity in the fall of 2o12, and soon look to produce a concept by next year. Like the Phonebloks concept, one can buy individual components as they improve or their needs change.

Here’s a prototype to give you a feel of the size

With an estimated retail price of $50, and the caveat that Google may not produce the end project, the idea seems to hold a lot of promise, and I think one that we can all get behind. ZTE, a Chinese phone manufacturer, produced a modular concept earlier this year, so maybe more than one company will dip their toes into the modular opportunity.

With Moore’s Law stating that the number of transistors double every 18 months (and so with it computing power and increasing efforts and dollars spent to keep pace), we can now feel a little bit better about using technology better while being smarter about how we discard. While ultimately using rare earth and precious metals isn’t so sustainable, I believe many of the great things we can use mobile and electronic devices outweigh their negatives if we can recycle better and reuse what isn’t broken (thereby cutting down this long drawn out carbon intensive process).

Check back tomorrow for my normal spot in covering Mobility, I had an opportunity to fill in today’s section that I realized I wanted to talk a lot more about. I hope you enjoyed it, for my info on the Google Aras project, check out the Time’s blog covering in more nerdy detail the history and specifics behind making this project (so far) a reality: TIME.

Leave comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you found this interesting / a different perspective on what we normally write about!


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