Thursday, January 1, 2009

Time To Renew The Old

Today is the first day of 2009. What other better day to talk about renewal?

There are 4.5 million people in Singapore and at the last count in Oct 2008, there were 6.2 million mobile phone subscriptions here. The numbers tell a story.

I tried to look around for someone who is not using a mobile phone, it was not easy to locate more than a handful, after excluding the very old and the very young. It is common to find primary school children and retired senior citizens meddling with a mobile phone in their palms. It seems that our lives are so fused with this gadget nowadays.

Last week, it was reported in the Straits Times that 2 million mobile phones were snapped in the first 10 months of 2008. Looks like the global recession has not dampened people's enthusiasm for new gadgets.

The telcos are aggressive in luring consumers with the launch of new touchscreen and smartphones with Internet, multimedia and email features. The popularity of touchscreens was also a big factor in the overall brisk sales. This was especially so for SingTel's exclusive iPhone, which was sold since August 08.

After mobile number portability was introduced in June 08, users can keep their mobile phone numbers even if they switch operators. That has prompted the telcos to up their actions and dished out more subsidies to retain or win over users.

In Dec 2007, a survey was conducted by the Temasek Polytechnic with more than 2000 youth age between 15 and 27. About 78% of them said that they would feel lost without their mobile phones and 88% said they would carry them wherever they go. When comes to features of a phone, camera function is seen as the most important, said 86% of them. Generally, the youth regards mobile phone as crucial to their daily life.

In gist, almost everyone who is old enough to operate a mobile phone has one or more of this device. Typically, tech-savvy Singaporeans switch mobile phones every 12 to 18 months on average, said a recent media report. If so many people are using mobile phones and so many more are sold each year, what happens to the old ones?

A global consumer survey released by Nokia in July 07 suggests that only 3% of
mobile phone users recycle their unwanted devices. 44% of them said that they simply keep their unused mobile devices at home and nearly half of those surveyed were unaware that recycling such phones is even an option.

Though Singapore was not included in the survey, Asian countries surveyed were shown to be the least aware that mobile phones can be recycled. I suspect the majority of the users here either put them away in a drawer or chuck them in a bin. The awareness to recycle these used phone is almost zilch here.

Recycling used phones is not just for financial reasons. The main problem lies with the batteries, some of which contain toxic substances such as cadmium, which can contaminate the environment.

In UK, Fonebank is one of the leading recyclers for old mobile phones. You can turn in your used phone conveniently over the web. Just key in your phone model, they will give you a quote. If you are happy with it, send the phone to them and receive your cheque. They reuse and recycle in excess of 70,000 mobile phones per month from all over Europe and the majority of which are earmarked for Africa, Pakistan, India and South East Asia.

In Nov 08, Fonebank sent out £200,000 worth of cheques, with an average of £50 per person. I hit their
website and attempted to sell my LG KE970. They gave me a quote of £25 without asking for the age of the phone. The only pre-requisite is that it has to be in working condition. A 3G 16GB iPhone can get you £200.

I am thinking of doing the same in Singapore but nothing convenient comes to my mind.

Over here, the most common way to get rid of used phone is by trading in. This is usually done at the mercy of phone retailers who decide, if at all, your used phone is worth a cent. For older models, you can beg them and they will not even take a second look at them. There is no easy way to find someone who would take in your end-of-life phones.

When does a mobile phone become old? There is no universal definition but in this fast-track techy era, three years and above can be considered old, I guess?

I have some old mobile phones. If I were to send them to used phone retailers, they might try to hide their sarcasm and advise me that there are no more 'trade-in' values in those models. What they really wanted to tell me is that, "Oh, why don't you just throw them away!" These phones usually don't get to leave my drawers, unless I chose to discard them in the bins.

If yours are old Nokia phones, you can turn them at selected
Nokia Care Centres. For Motorola users, ECOMOTO Takeback will accept your end-of-life products. For other users, you are on your own.

I took a quick look at the National Environment Agency (NEA)
website and I can find the presence of some recycling effort. The programs carried out so far are rather sporadic and to a certain extent, if I may say, symbolic. I do not feel any concerted effort to give recycling a higher priority at national level.

I feel that telcos can devote more energy in raising awareness about the importance of recycling unwanted mobile phones and not to wait for environmental law and regulation to mandate recycling.

I shall help the NEA and the Singapore telcos to set a new year resolution: Work harder on mobile phone recycling.

Happy 2009 to all !


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