Celebrating Eco-Progress: Sprint

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data for 2009:

  • 141 million: number of mobile devices ready for End-of-Life Management
  • 129 million: number of mobile devices disposed
  • 11.7 million: number of mobile devices collected for recycling

I touched on the E-waste problem in a Celebrating Eco-Progress installment in April 2011, Dell was the recipient of my recognition back then, and today I celebrate considerable and welcome efforts by Sprint to address the environmental impacts of their business.

Via SmartPlanet:

For Sprint, it is no longer enough that some mobile phones and handsets have been vetted for the sustainability of their materials and packaging.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the company is now subjecting all of the devices it offers on its wireless services to the environmental sustainability certification process that it has developed with UL Environment.

Sprint pioneered this approach with the Samsung Replenish (pictured at the right). The standard…looks at:

  • The sensitivity of materials used
  • How well the phone manages energy
  • The manufacturing process
  • Packaging
  • The manufacturer’s product stewardship
  • How the product is put together from a design standpoint, so it can be fixed or updated more easily

It is the last item on the list that really stands out to me, since it speaks to one of the primary causes for such high disposal rates.

As I wrote in my older post:

Just think about cellphones for a second. From a profit motive standpoint, the two-year contract was a stroke of brilliance, as it has now become almost standard practice for consumers to replace a perfectly good cellphone every two years just because you can do so and get a new phone at a significant discount. Cellphone manufacturers and carriers figured out that the increase in sales volume from such a dynamic would not only compensate for the discounts they offer for upgrades, but would actually stabilize a market with a predictable life cycle.

While I don’t see an end in sight for two-year contracts tied to upgrades, it will be interesting to see if Sprint’s new practices can achieve their lofty goals:

“By being the first carrier to require all wireless phones to go through the UL Environment certification process, we expect to accelerate adoption of this standard throughout the wireless industry,” said David Owens, vice president of product development for Sprint, in a statement about the new policy.

It remains to be seen if customers will eventually, in larger numbers, fix or upgrade their phones rather than replacing them every two years as a result of actions like Sprint’s, but it certainly is worth a shot!

Keep up the good work, Sprint!

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