Mobile technology is becoming more recyclable and reducing its carbon footprint

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Mobile technology is becoming more recyclable and reducing its carbon footprint

Virgin Media O2 is at the forefront of recycling, re-homing and refurbishing mobile tech, paving a way to reduce the impact our devices has on the planet

image DENNY KEELER/GETTY

words Rhys Thomas

COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2022, is just around the corner. It’s a huge event on the eco-calendar, where world leaders will sit down and discuss ways to save the world. This year’s focus areas include “the promise of innovation and clean technologies as well as the centrality of water and agriculture to the climate crisis”. While water purity and agriculture aren’t necessarily something you may engage with daily, technology certainly is.

Phones and vapes and batteries, yes, but also – you know when you move into a house, and someone has left their old WIFI router? And you’re there with this box and wires in a drawer, and you don’t want it, but you also don’t know how to get rid of it? It can’t be recyclable, surely, it’s a million different materials, you say to yourself before reluctantly putting it in the non-recyclable bin. Well, not any more! As well as making their mobile products recyclable, refurbishable and re-homeable, Virgin Media O2 has a scheme to help reduce the environmental impact of television boxes, WIFI routers and WIFI boosters.

What’s so special about what Virgin Media O2 is doing?

Well they’re making it far easier to recycle their products than it used to be. We know that certain parts of tech are rare and precious, metals like lithium, copper, manganese, cobalt and tellurium are used to make the phone electronic and rechargeable. Rare metals like neodymium, europium, terbium are used within the touch screen elements. There's even gold and platinum in most smartphones. Most of these are mined in places including China, Chile and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virgin Media O2 is acknowledging this and preserving the goods instead of trashing them. You can just print off a pre-paid label, put it on the packaged up former goods, and send it all back to them. Easy and free, or if you have an engineer visiting, they can take it away for you. Everything that goes back to them they’ll then deal with. Where possible, they’ll actually reuse the materials. In fact, the recycling is a last resort for them. They’re making a point of trying to repair and reuse kit wherever possible instead, which is even more energy efficient.

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How will this save the world?

Two words: circular economy. Which is the phrase given to a system that makes a point of considering global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. Just as it's big business across the fashion world, it's also very important within technology. In fact, a circular mindset is something all companies (or anyone making something, really) are quickly going to have to learn to adopt and consider. Virgin Media O2 is an example of a company doing this.

If every company is making cleaner products it will go a huge way to saving the world, as our industries will be far less wasteful. It’ll also mean we can stop feeling guilty for consuming the products we want to use. Everybody wins!

Who came up with the idea, and where can we find it?

Well some brainy people at Virgin Media O2 came up with the idea of helping their customers to recycle and return their old products, presumably. There’s information on their website about that here.

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In terms of the whole circular economy thing, who knows who discovered that. But the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which was established in order to accelerate the world into thinking and implementing a circular economy. They define a circular economy by saying “In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place.” They also say there are three principles which the design of new things should follow: Eliminating waste and pollution; Circulating products and materials at their highest values (which means reusing things with the least amount of effort possible, basically); and regenerating nature.

How can I get involved?

Tell your mates when they move flat, remember for when you inevitably have to choose a WIFI provider or dispose of someone else’s Hub 3, WiFi Pod, or Virgin TV box. Keep an eye out for others who strive to catch up with them too, a way to save the world would be to make everything recyclable, after all.

Outside of that, just keep the idea of a circular economy on your mind and it’ll help you notice other ways to save the world.

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