Mobile Phone LCA Midterm Briefing

Product: Smartphone
Samsung Omnia i910/Verizon

 

Financial Drivers

  • US Market:

Devices are subsidized by the carriers, but the phone is locked to the carrier. The price of the phone, approx $500-600, is reduced to $200 plus a 2-year contract.
This partnership reduces the amount of innovation on both the side of the carrier and the manufacturer: the manufacturers have to cater to the demands of the networks, and service providers often have to pick among mobile devices customized for each network.
  • Most international markets:

Devices are sold at retail and are often able to be used on any carrier. Some jurisdictions prohibit locking the phone to a carrier.

In the smartphone space, software platforms are a third dimension of variability. Apple and RIM design their own hardware and software, Google’s Android platform and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform are to some degree device independent. Innovation comes from the software providers, hardware designs, and to some degree prodding by the service providers for new features to attract customers. Disruptive innovations, such as the introduction of the iPhone and the open source Android platform have provided pressure to innovate on both hardware and software fronts, leading to a more rapid evolution of products.

While the flexibility of the smartphone is much greater than that of a conventional mobile device, there is still financial incentive to have customers replace hardware. Apple’s iPhone has gone through three generations since introduction in 2007, and the general rule of a two-year lifespan for a mobile device has held true with smartphones, mostly due to the social pressure to have the latest and greatest, the designed life of the device, and carrier pricing structure (for example Verizon’s ‘New Every Two’ program).

Regulatory issues

  • Batteries

Lithium chemistry batteries are used universally for the high energy density and relatively low cost due to the high volume produced.
Recycling schemes exist for lithium batteries, and they are banned from municipal trash streams in most legal jurisdictions. Of course this does not preclude many batteries from ending up in the municipal waste stream where they are landfilled or incinerated.
Batteries are regulated under RoHS and the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer chemistries do not include any banned materials. As they do present a fire hazard and lithium is a reactive metal, there are restrictions on shipping batteries and they are not legally permitted to be disposed of in landfills.
  • Sales in the US vs. overseas rules

As handsets are often sold in multiple legal jurisdictions, such as the US and EU, most manufactures follow the RoHS and WEEE EU directives for most of all of their products. The more stringent regulations in the EU generally translate to more stringent criteria for design teams, generalizing the RoHS and WEEE regulations to all versions of the product, if it is cost effective to do so. Products intended for a single market may not be compliant with international standards.
The Omnia i910 is RoHS compliant, as are its battery and accessories.
  • EPA

The EPA Energy Star criteria attempts to reduce the energy consumption of products during their use phase. For a mobile phone, this accounts for approximately half of the total environmental impact.
For mobile phones, the AC power supplies can be Energy Star certified. The criteria for certification are a no-load draw ≤ 0.3W, and a loaded efficiency specified based on the rated output of the unit. The minimum efficiencies required are relatively low: for a 1w power supply, the efficiency must be greater than 56.4% to qualify for Energy Star certification. Most manufacturers units claim to exceed this efficiency level.
Many of the power supplies manufactured by Samsung are Energy Star certified, but the i900/i910 power supply is not listed.
  • European Union

Products intended for sale in European Union countries are required to bear the CE logo and conform to the EU directives. This mark is applied by the manufacturer who must claim compliance with the appropriate directives—there is no third party or governmental testing required, but companies are responsible for the truthfulness of their claims of compliance. The charger for the i910 bears the CE mark, as does the battery.
  • State regulations

New York, Maine, and California require mobile phone sales outlets to take back phones, and Illinois requires manufacturers to recycle electronics.
As of 2008, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, and Kentucky have passed legislation undertaking study of e-waste recycling programs or started programs.
Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have proposed legislation regarding e-waste recycling.

Nongovernmental organizations

  • Underwriters Laboratories

UL certifies power supplies and cords for fire resistance and electrical containment. Often this requires the addition of fire retardant materials to the plastics used in casings, circuit boards and wire coverings. Historically these have been bromine compounds such as PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and similar compounds. Most manufacturers, under pressure from consumers and nongovernmental organizations, have begun to phase out brominated flame retardants, replacing them with other compounds which may pose health hazards of their own.
  • Greenpeace

Greenpeace has campaigned for the restriction of use of hazardous substances, and the restriction of their transport. Greenpeace activists were instrumental in promoting the Basel Ban, and prompted Samsung to become a leader in reducing the environmental impact of their products. Samsung, receiving a poor score on Greenpeace’s listing of manufacturers committed in 2004 to reduce the use of hazardous substances, and they have lived up to that promise in the years since.
  • Basel Action Network

The Basel Action Network has pressed for the adoption of the Basel Convention ban on the transport of hazardous wastes; signed and ratified by all industrialized nations except for the US (which signed but did not ratify). The Basel Ban prohibits the transfer of hazardous wastes between nations which are parties to the ban, and from non-party nations to party nations. The US, as a nation not bound by the treaty, has negotiated a number of treaties outside the Basel Ban to allow for shipment of hazardous materials to less developed nations. A large amount of electronics waste is shipped to China, India, and African nations, where it is often disposed of improperly.

Consumer Drivers

Initially, smartphones were not on as short a lifecycle as standard mobile phones due to the business nature of designs. Windows Mobile, Palm, and the early BlackBerry devices were geared towards a business audience, limiting their reach into the general mobile market. The later BlackBerry models and the debut of the iPhone greatly increased demand for smartphones (Nokia’s products only having a small penetration in the US market), and greatly increased pressure on device manufacturers and service providers to deliver new models at a rapid pace.

As the standard US mobile contract is two years, consumers replace their handsets for the most part on this schedule. This contributes to the large number of handsets which become ‘waste’ annually, and which are often not recycled or reused—most often the end up in closets and drawers.

Push from consumers for takeback programs has resulted in service providers offering takeback programs at their retail outlets, and at partner stores, such as Radio Shack and Best Buy. Verizon, which sells the Omnia, has its own recycling program, HopeLine. HopeLine has collected over 1.6 million phones, and donated 23,000 units to individuals threatened with domestic violence.

Smartphones are less easily reused for these types of programs, and therefore most likely become waste. As Verizon uses CDMA2000 as opposed to GSM, there are limited secondary markets for handsets. Other providers’ devices can be used overseas—Nokia handsets often are ‘downcycled’ from first world to third world countries before becoming electronic waste.

Mobile Device Recyclers

  • ECO

ECO Take Back handles e-waste recycling for Samsung. Mobile phones are sorted and those with reuse value are separated. Phones to be reused have their memory wiped and then are sent off to be resold as warranty replacement phones, or sold to lower-tier uses such as overseas markets.
Phones without resale value are shredded and the materials processed for recoverable metals and recyclable plastics. The company would not divulge what methods they use, but it is likely that chemical separation is used to recover metals.
  • ReCellular

ReCellular resells usable mobile devices, and recycles those without resale value or which are unusable. ReCellular collected 5.5 million units in 2008, reconditioning half for resale, and recycling 1.2 million lbs of materials including 10t of precious metals.
ReCellular’s policy is that none of the phones they process will be landfilled or incinerated, and they claim to audit all partners to ensure proper handling of materials. ReCellular exclusively uses Sims Recycling in West Chicago, and does not ship materials overseas.
ReCellular is ISO 14001:2004 compliant, and partnered with the EPA on developing the R2 recycler standards for electronic waste.
  • Call2Recycle

Call2Recycle recycles mobile phones and rechargeable batteries of all chemistries from consumer sources. Funded by electronics companies and producers of rechargeable batteries, the service is free to consumers. Call2Recycle does not recycle primary (non-rechargeable) batteries. Batteries can be mailed in using prepaid mailing envelopes, or dropped in boxes in stores and post offices.
Call2Recycle uses Inmetco in Ellwood City, PA to process batteries for recoverable metals by thermal processing.
Mobile devices are resold through Market Velocity, a firm which resells and recycles all types of e-waste through partner organizations. Market Velocity claims to follow EPA guidelines for e-waste recycling, but do not specify who they send products to for processing.
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