Monday, 26 October 2009

21st Century Mobile Power

The mobile phone has become a standard accessory for all people throughout the world. In affluent Finland, the home of Nokia Corporation, the mobile phone has been ubiquitous for decades. At the other extreme, in the poorest regions of the world there may be one mobile phone per village, hired out one call at a time. In the developed world, this flood of mobile technology allows us to text, twitter and surf the net. In the developing world, people can avoid the expense of a long trip into the nearest town by transacting their affairs over the phone for the first time. There is no need to install a fixed-line infrastructure; poorer countries can jump straight to a network of base stations to serve the mobile phones.

Through this explosion of mobile phone sales we have been blind to the consequential impact of the manufacture and then disposal of the phones. We must move beyond the out-dated concepts of the 20th century throw-away society to true 21st century cradle-to-cradle design. Products should be designed for a full lifecycle of manufacture, use and recycling at end-of life that is sustainable indefinitely.

It is heartening to see the first small step. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has given its stamp of approval to an energy-efficient one-charger-fits-all for new mobile phones. There will no longer need to be a new charger for every new phone sold. This may be a small step but it shows that corporations can cooperate to deliver sustainable solutions. The next challenge in this industry would be to make the phones themselves entirely recyclable. There are some examples of covers made from recycled plastics but these are superficial attempts. The 21st century mobile phone must have all components designed to be fully recyclable, particularly the batteries.

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