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Minimising Impact: How legislation and sustainable design can reduce the environmental cost of a mobile phone

By Ben Thomas


This paper looks at the factors involved in the environmental cost of a mobile phone handset. It initially looks at the development of mobile handsets and the trends in weight, energy consumption, use life and mobile ownership. The environmental impacts of these trends are discussed, as is the issue of refurbishing mobile handsets for resale abroad.\ud The paper then examines the likely effects of forthcoming EU legislation, in particular the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, the various options available at End of Life for handsets (i.e. recycling, refurbishment for resale and disposal to landfill) and the effects of various sustainable design modifications on the\ud overall environmental cost of the handset.\ud Each factor is evaluated using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to compare their effects on the overall impacts of both an older mobile phone design from 1999 and a modern phone (2004). LCA is used to compare the impacts of the older phone with the newer phone, investigate the effects of material substitution for environmental gain, the effects\ud of the forthcoming WEEE directive and the effects of the power consumption targets for chargers outlined in the voluntary Code of Conduct on the Efficiency of External Power Supplies (2000). The environmental impacts of refurbishing mobile phones for resale abroad are also examined.\ud The paper concludes from the LCA results that the greatest impact of EEE over its life cycle is from the energy consumed during the use phase, and that this is the main\ud difference between the environmental impact of newer and older handsets. It also notes that while material substitution for environmental gain is beneficial, increasing energy efficiency has a far greater effect on the overall impact of the handset. Similarly it notes\ud that the gains to be made by the implementation of the WEEE directive (which requires manufacturers to be responsible for the collection and recycling of their products at End\ud of Life (EoL) and to meet recycling for material recovery targets of 65%) are small compared with those made voluntarily by mobile manufacturers in the Code of Conduct\ud on the Efficiency of External Power Supplies (2000). It is also shown that design for recycling can greatly improve the economic incentives for recycling of handsets at EoL.\ud Finally, the paper recommends legislation to enforce the targets voluntarily laid out by the voluntary Code of Conduct on the Efficiency of External Power Supplies\ud (2000) and calls for environmental legislation to take into greater account the effects of mobile handsets over their entire life cycle.\ud On the issue of refurbishing mobile handsets for resale abroad the paper concludes that this has no environmental benefit as the reduced power consumption of newer mobile handsets outweighs the benefits of extending the use life of mobile handsets. It is recommended that refurbished handsets be fitted with modern, energy efficient chargers before they offer any real environmental benefit to the developing world over newer handsets

Topics: ge
Year: 2004
OAI identifier:

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