Mobile phone contracts are bad for the environment

8 Jun 2015

While many mobile phone users enjoy being told that they are due an upgrade to their phone, new research has shown that mobile phone networks’ offerings of such mobile contracts is damaging the environment.

Research published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, shows the ever-shortening lifespans of phones due to yearly-renewed contracts is harming the environment through e-waste, as well as being a significant cost increase for manufacturers.

On top of this, the research shows that the companies that are encouraging customers to upgrade their phone on a regular basis are doing very little when it comes to promoting the recycling of older phones.

Looking at the UK, lead author of the study, Dr James Suckling from the University of Surrey, said: “There are an estimated 85m unused phones in the UK. Each of these phones has been manufactured using precious metals such as gold, copper and silver, which are costly to extract, both in cash terms and environmental impact.

“These unused phones contain approximately four tonnes of gold, a lost resource that would cost £110m and an equivalent of 84,000 tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere to replace.”

To counteract this, Dr Suckling and his team suggest the creation of a ‘cloud-based product service system’, which would effectively change how mobile phones are made, with much of the processing and hardware moved into the cloud, as they say this will allow the phones to last longer and will require less precious metals.

They also suggest a ‘take-back’ clause, which would give the phone back to the retailer at the end of the contract.

Dr Suckling believes a cloud-based mobile phone ecosystem is a feasible concept.

“This is a model that has been used already. Replacing power-hungry desktop PCs with thin client computers that run off cloud services, with less hardware, reduced power consumption by up to 55pc,” he said.

Old mobile phones image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic