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Living Green

Mobile Technology and the Environment are these renewability efforts enough

Mobile Technology and the Environment are these renewability efforts enough

Chances are good you've owned your fair share of cell phones over the past decade. How did you dispose of them? Did you simply throw them away? That could be an issue, as recent numbers show that of the 2.1 billion mobile phones and tablets in the world, less than 10 percent are recycled or renewed in some fashion.

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And that poses problems for the environment. According to,the chemicals that go into making an electronic device (including mercury, lead and cadmium) can have disastrous consequences on people's health if they're not disposed of properly. Fortunately, nonprofit organizations and mobile tech companies are driving some impressive renewability efforts.

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Recycling and Repurposing Programs for Mobile Devices

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First, educate yourself on which companies and devices are "greener" than others. investigated mobile phones last fall to determine the levels of toxic chemicals found in devices. The original iPhone produced several years ago was one of the highest offenders in the survey. When comparing cell phones, plug the manufacturers' names into the site to see how they rate, and support the companies that make products with a low risk to the environment.

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Then, do your research. Electronics Take Back is a consortium of clean-minded tech companies and other environmental enthusiasts that helps consumers recycle or repurpose their devices. Another group,the Device Renewal Forum (DRF), works with major device manufacturers to set new standards for recycling and renewing old mobile devices. A recent press release from the DRF announced that the group has published a global standard for renewing and accepting smartphones, feature phones and tablets that have been refurbished. Known as the DRF Device Renewal and Acceptance Criteria, it's the basis for certifying that renewed mobile devices meet the DRF’s standards for product quality, appearance, performance and integrity.

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Renewed Emphasis on Clean Energy Sources

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Alcatel-Lucent's “Green Touch” initiative aims to reduce the amount of energy that mobile networks consume by developing technology that will make networks 1,000 times more efficient within five years. Founding members include AT&T, China Mobile, Telefonica and Freescale, among others.

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Here are additional ways that mobile companies are becoming energy efficient.

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  • Cleaner Base Stations: The majority of phone companies are looking at solar and wind power to run or back up their power grids. It is estimated that 4.5 percent of the world’s cellular base stations will run off solar and wind by 2014.
  • Standardized Chargers: Major mobile companies have done a good job at making standardized chargers. Almost anyone can attest to the wastefulness of buying different chargers for different cell phones.
  • Recycling: Companies are trying to find ways to make money from the materials or by refurbishing phones. Startups include RecycleBank, ecoATM and Second Rotation.
  • Green-Marketed Mobile Phones: A few companies like Samsung and Sprint have launched green-specific cell phones in an attempt to become more environmentally friendly.
  • Reducing Hazardous Chemicals: Greenpeace put Nokia in the top Greener Gadgets ranking this year for phasing out use of brominated compounds, chlorinated flame retardants and antimony trioxide in all new products.
  • Solar Cell Phone Charging: A few major mobile companies are trying to develop way to make their phones incorporate solar technology. Russian scientists are even trying to use satellites and lasers to deliver solar power to earth.
  • Mobile Apps: Some of the latest iPhone and Android apps are helping consumers curb their home energy consumption and reduce the fuel consumption of their vehicles.

The Need for Renewable Energy Resources

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural sources, while nonrenewable energy is energy taken from sources that are available in limited quantity now, but will vanish in the next 50-60 years.

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Global mobile phone subscriptions will continue to grow over the next five years, according to Due to this increased traffic, demand for additional base stations, especially in emergent regions, will grow; in fact, the telecommunications research firm Analysys Mason predicts that three out of four base stations will be deployed in emergent markets. Diesel generators are still used in these stations, and at times are combined with renewable energy resources, but 100 percent renewable energy resource systems are rare.

Three recent developments are helping to change that, especially for solar photovoltaics (PV)-based solutions deployed in the Sunbelt countries

  • Decreasing Solar PV Prices: One of the most capital-intensive forms of renewable energy has historically been found to be solar photovoltaics. However, this is no longer the case; falling PV prices have helped move PV closer to wind energy, the cheapest renewable energy there is.
  • More Robust Off-Grid Technology: Most of PV and wind installations are connected to a grid, decreasing the concern of cloudy or windless days since the electrical grid acts as a backup system. As a result, a microgrid, a combination of hardware and software that allows for the integration and optimized management of multiple energy sources, both conventional and renewable, has been created.
  • Broader Availability of Energy Service Companies: Deploying green base stations might not be a solid investment for many telecom operators, even with improved economics. A better choice would be an energy service company, who pays for and installs necessary equipment and sells the generated power to the telecom operator. Electricity prices are set via a power purchase agreement and will depend on the characteristics of the base station, duration of the contract and the risk-sharing model. Energy service companies are now available for a wide range of applications in the U.S. alone, and they're expected to grow into $16 billion industry by 2020.

There are some industry experts that predict the measures mentioned above will start to pay off this year. Wireless Week noted, "Renewed devices give operators and distributors additional options for targeting price-sensitive demographics such as the credit-challenged and prepaid users. Refurbished smartphones, tablets and modems are ideal for increasing Internet penetration in developing markets." Let's hope that the mobile technology industry is on the right path toward more renewability.

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