Late Start: Recycling a device a day…

SGH-U800 (disassembled)

To be honest, I’ve started this campaign quite late in the semester. Including the 2 pages above ill be writing up 10+ posts about mobile e-recycling. I want to make this campaign mean something beyond conversations and news sharing in cyberspace, so for this coming week I will try and recycle one phone every single day of the week.

These phones will be posted into the gallery page above, and for some of the worse for wear devices I will take them apart (called a teardown) to show you the guts of your favourite smartphones. What does the circuitboard look like? How small is the camera module? Where did the attenta disappear to? What does a phone look like after being dropped in water?

Find out here. This is my way to make up for the late start and to spur myself and others into making a difference. Thanks for reading!


Change for Telco Retail and Manufacturing

I was reading over some writing by the good people at ‘Recharge The Environment’ and a recent poll they conducted about how best to manage Australia’s growing need to recycle batteries of all types. The winning solution? Compulsory Battery Stewardship. They’ve outlined some European and American models for mandatory recycling for the producers of batteries by incentivising recycling targets and taxing failure. This got me thinking about how Australia could apply these models to the manufacturers of Smartphones (Apple, Samsung, HTC, LG…) that re-sell their products here. MobileMuster, the telco industry-sponsored program, already does a great deal to educate customers and recycle devices from retail stores, but it is time for the big manufacturers to take responsibility for their products in partnership with Carriers (Telstra, Optus & Voda).

samlogoEarlier this year, Samsung teamed up with Vodafone and MobileMuster to promote recycling and win a Galaxy S4. While this is a great start, campaigns like these are too short-lived to affect any lasting change in consumer behaviour. Permanent incentive programs are needed to break the product and contract cycle and get more devices out of dark drawers. Samsung US already has a comprehensive e-recycling program, but nothing like this exists in Australia for mobile manufacturing, mainly because of fragmented distribution networks.

In my current job servicing and repairing smartphones, about 20% of customers actively ask if there is a trade-in or buy-back scheme, this could be a win-win-win program for customers, carriers/manufacturers and the environment. Here are some of my suggestions for how to implement this.

1) Carrier ‘upgrade-and-save’ offer:  if a device is traded in while resigning a contract, the customer will receive credit towards their bill. This is a no-brainer; bill-credit systems are already in place and cost carriers hardly anything, they acquire loan and refurbished phones for customer experience, build loyalty and has been done plenty of times before. Make it a permanent fixture.

2) Manufacturer ‘pay-the-difference’ incentive: brands are moving into the retail space without carriers, and Apple have done this successfully for many years. This would be targeted specifically at Samsung because they are the #1 mobile manufacturer and have fast product cycles. If a customer moves from, say, a working S3 to an S4, they could pay the difference between the devices. Sure the margin is reduced but this helps to retain customers thinking of swapping and it opens a revenue stream from old devices being refurbished.

3) Faulty/Broken Devices ‘almost-brand-new’ scheme: with these faulty or broken devices the customer would pay a cash amount (depending on the market value of refurbished devices) in exchange for a refurbished device of the same model. This could be scaled into upgrading  to a better model for a higher price. This works for the above reasons but also because broken devices are often quite cheap for manufacturers to fix and re-sell, so the margins are high.

Do you have any ideas about how to get the most from your old phone and current provider? Let me know below.

Case Study: the ‘ecoATM’

The largest hurdles for Australians wanting to recycle are:
a) they are not aware of any programs for recycling [this should be addressed in retail and/or a smartphone app]
b) the process is not incentivised for customers who often hold on to a ‘Plan-B’ or are unwilling to let go of perceived value
c) there is a minor inconvenience to post in the device or physically drop it off at a collection point.

I’ve addressed some of these issues in my Article on Retail and Manufacturing, but here is a brand new innovative technology that addresses these issues and makes recycling devices as easy as withdrawing cash, quite literally. Introducing ecoATM. This is a serious bit of innovative technology that may just popularise phone-recycling, get some cash back into the domestic market, and ship more refurbished phones to 2nd/3rd world countries where the demand is high and recycling facilities are low. Here’s how it works:

At the moment the ecoATM is has 50 machines in San Diego, and plan to roll-out across the US. Their press-kit outlines some key issues for the telco industry that would work well here in Australia.


“Many retailers have embraced trade-in / trade-up incentive programs driving foot-traffic, revene-lift, and sales of new devices through manual or POS-driven eCycling take-back systems. However, the labor and complexity of the “reverselogistics” process has negated any potential profit gains.”

At first I was skeptical about how easy it would be to cash-in stolen phones, but the array of technology built in to the ecoATM is comprehensive, and they work with Law Enforcement Agencies effectively.

So You’re winding-up a night on the town and you’ve gotten so drunk that your phone mysteriously smashed itself on the ground and doesn’t work. On top of that, you’re broke because you spent all your money on booze, drugs or girls/guys. Hey I’m not judging… Drop that new ‘paper-weight’ into an ecoATM, get in instant cash-payout so you can buy a kebab and take cab home instead of waiting for public transport like a pleb.

Sound like you? Probably not. If you’d like to read more about this mobile recycling innovation and the company’s goals, read the Background Information PDFI’ve contacted an ecoATM representative for comment but am yet to receive a response. 

Tips to save your (Li) Battery Life

Recycling_Li-ion.svgToday’s smartphones are powered by Lithium-Ion batteries while old phones are Lead-acid or Nickel based. Lithium is more energy efficient & environmentally friendly to mine, manufacture and recycle. Currently it is not economically viable to recycle Lithium from batteries as other minerals are more valuable, but new research and technology are changing this. Lithium prices have tripled over the last 10 years and this will increase. Australia has the 3rd largest lithium reserves at 11.4% of the world total (2nd: China @26% & 1st: Chile @56%) but we produce the most; 35%, according to Geoscience Australia.

Different battery technology requires different usage/charging cycles to get the most of your battery life and stop early wear out. By saving your battery life you are also saving the environment by diverting batteries away from landfill where harmful chemicals can leak and damage the environment. These tips are based on Current Research and Other Articles, plus my years of experience servicing smartphones.

Top 5 Battery Saving Tips

1. Drain your Battery ONCE a month
– This will calibrate your battery so the levels are accurate and increase its capacity range.

2. Don’t Heat it Up
– Lithium batteries degrade if they are near a heat source, they could become less stable and hold less power in the long run.

3. Don’t leave your Phone Charging Overnight
– Once it reaches 100% the phone is kept on ‘trickle charge’ which keeps it topped up at 100%. This can heat up the battery when its overcharged and cause the higher range of power to drain faster during regular use.

4. Never charge at a higher Voltage
– most chargers are 1amp, new smartphones (s4 & Note 3) need a 2amp. If too much power is sent to a battery too quickly this can cause it to expand and short circuit the phone in rare cases.

5. Don’t let it Drop Below 20%
– this can be difficult to manage; once in a while is fine but on a regular basis this degrades the low-end capacity of the battery meaning over time it will hold less and less of a charge. The optimal range for performance vs. extended life is between 30% and 805.

Top 4 Common Causes of Fast Battery Drain

Apps Running in the Background: as you use programs they keep running, using data battery life
Push Services: some exchange emails and social media require constant connection to a server which is battery heavy.
Weak Network Reception; if you travel/work around network ‘blackspots’ your phone has to work harder to maintain an unstable connection.
Hardware sensors: don’t leave Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, Proximity or Accellerometer hardware on if you don’t use them.

App Proposal and Recommended Apps

‘Recycle-A-Phone’ APP Proposal

This will potentially be sponsored by MobileMuster in partnership with Carriers and Manufacturers to have a mandatory install on Smartphone devices (like they have with satchels in the box and past campaigns) 

– General Info and News
– Display Phone Details
– Good Battery Tips
– Data Privacy, Reset
– Highly Rated Devices
– Recommended Apps

– Refurb Price Aggregator
– Charity/Foundation Donations
– Current Campaigns
– Swap/Trade Devices?
– Corporate e-recycling

Recommended Apps for your Smartphone

Photos: Picsart (for effects, filters editing and kaleidoscopes…)
News/Website Reader: Google Currents (great visual website & news feed, intuitive)
English improvement: The Free Dictionary (daily word, article, quotes, history & games)
Music Player: Power Amp (powerful customisation, full EQ, track fading, lockscreen widget)
– Battery Life: Battery Doctor (accurate stats, app watcher, fast charging)
Productivity: Google Drive (mandatory for students & group sharing documents)
Languages: Duolingo (great photo-based learning, lesson plans)
Drawing: Pixel Touch (grid based drawing with easy control, #bit nostalgia)
Inspiration: TED (video presentations on human knowledge)
Diagnostics: Wakelock Detector (for apps) and Network Connection (I/Os)

Case Study: Mining, Manufacturing and the ‘Fairphone’

There is light at the end of this dark mining tunnel and manufacturing conveyer-belt.
Here’s to the first of many Fairphones!

Manufacturing in China – Apple have been in the news over the last year about manufacturing and employment practices in China. While Foxxconn does pay more than the average Chinese factory, the cramped conditions, 60+ hour weeks, riots and suicides do not justify Apple’s huge margins on their products. Combine this with tax evasion and the $145 billion in cash reserves, Apple could be true leaders in bringing change to the industry and live up to their marketing hype. Of course it is not just Apple. Samsung are probably worse but they are better at burying malpractice and bad news with exponentially faster product cycles and glossy advertising. What would you expect when the Samsung family consortium of 80 South Korean companies (who are now feuding) has almost as much control over the country than the government.

Mining in China –  take several steps back in the supply-chain and look at where the Rare-Earth Minerals come from to manufacture the (roughly) 2 billion smartphones existing today. Currently China mines 90% of the worlds rare earth minerals (two-thirds of this in Inner Mongolia), but their environmental record is quite bad because extracting and processing the ore is very hazardous to people and the environment. The Chinese government have made efforts to reduce the ecological damage of rare-earth mining, including quotas and restricted exports, but this could be a strategy to drive-up prices and offset depleting reserves.

Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo – though it’s one of the the poorest countries in the world, their mines produce nearly half of the world’s tantalum, plus huge deposits of tin, tungsten, gold, and dozens of other minerals used in electronics. For 17 years, rival armies and militias have been fighting over these ‘conflict-minerals’, funding their wars by employing locals and kids to fight and mine minerals under horrifying conditions (including extortion, killing, rape, torture & abduction). Around half of Congo’s mines are controlled by rebels as gold is used to fund a local warlord, while illicit profits from tin, tungsten, and tantalum have dropped 65 percent since 2010. There have been efforts to turn the (blood) ‘red’ conflict-minerals into ‘green’ certified products, but this is relatively easy to circumvent and has been stifled by US lobbyists.

For a comprehensive 10 page report on the Congo, please read M. Dizolele’s (2012) testimony  to US House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade 

HomeRaise Hope for Congo have compiled ranked list of electronics companies (plus their detailed responses) based on tracing & auditing their supply chains, pushing for some legislation and exercising leadership in industry-wide efforts. Apple, Microsoft, Motorola & Nokia score well. LG, Samsung & Sony lag behind while HTC have done next to nothing.

Thankfully there is already an alternative to buying another tainted device, and hopefully the aforementioned manufacturers that can really make lasting change will follow suit. Introducing the Fairphone:

FairPhone – is the only smartphone that uses mostly non-conflict minerals and actively works for alternatives by partnering with a number of NGO’s around the world to change mining and manufacturing standards. In joining initiatives in the DRC, Fairphone hope to focus on regional stability by formalising the mining sector and increasing employment for small-scale miners. The ethical aspects of the phone’s design, supply chain and after-sales service are well documented, but there is still a long way to go:


Our next steps are to seek additional fair trading routes and build new relationships:
– We’re making progress on fairly mined cobalt in locations like the DRC and Zambia.
– We are working with a sustainable tin initiative in Banka, Indonesia through our friends at Friends of the Earth.
– We are very close to our goal of using Fairtrade certified gold in our smartphone. This would make us the first electronics company with certified Fairtrade gold in their products.

Unfortunately the device is only on a limited release in Europe, but the Specs are quite decent! Here’s a short round-up of the important ones.



Network Type 2G/GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHZ
3G/WCDMA: 900/2100MHz
OS Android 4.2 (rootable)
Chipset MTK6589 (quad-core) 1.2 Ghz
System Memory 16GB + 1GB (RAM)
Dimensions (mm) 126*63.5*10 mm
Primary Screen 4.3 qHD (960×540 pixels) 256dpi
Glass Dragontrail Glass
Primary Camera 8MP AF (stabilization + image sensor)
Secondary Camera 1.3 megapixels
Battery 2000mAh (Replaceable battery)
Pros Dual Sim, MicroSD, Good Sensors
Cons 4G, NFC, screen tech?

If you’d like to know more about the Fairphone’s Progress, check out the FAQ.

How to Recycle your Phone Now




Everyone wants the latest and greatest technology by their waist-side. Do you have a backup ‘Plan-B’ phone? Good. But what about those other devices hibernating in a dark drawer somewhere?

Yearly product cycles and two year contracts put us into the marketing rhythm to upgrade our devices often. Instead of abandoning your once loved (or hated) phones and tablets you should Re-sell, Donate or Recycle them. Get some extra cash, help out a friend and save the environment! Here’s how…

Prevent your device from becoming e-waste and harming the developing nations. We are sitting on a gold-mine (literally) of perfectly good unused minerals and materials. Mobile Muster is the telecommunications industry sponsored program for recycling your device in Australia, so drop into any mobile phone or electronics store to recycle your device. Feel good about clearing your clutter and helping reduce Australia’s 22 million abandoned devices!
– Mobile Muster will keep your device out of landfill and support the telco industry to get people recycling.
– Aussie Recycling Program will process and recycle your mobile phones for free, then donate to a list of different charities.
– Give Now have an impressive list of recycling programs and charities for you to send your mobile at no cost!

So you have a ‘Plan-B’ in case your phone dies, but what about the others? Consider donating your device to a family, friends, disadvantaged children or organisations in Australia. Mobile Muster does not recommend donating your device to developing nations as they will often end up in land-fill where toxic ingredients (lead, cobalt, etc) will harm people and the surrounding environment.
– Taronga Zoo will repurpose and sell your device to support gorilla habitats where mining for Coltan threatens their conservation.
– Cleanup Australia will recycle a phone on your behalf which goes towards support their campaigns and operation costs.
– Youth Cancer Organisation will raise money to build Youth Cancer Centres across Australia.

There are a growing number of companies getting in on the lucrative phone recycling industry. Commonly your old devices have their data wiped off, broken parts are replaced with new ones that are then resold onto the Carriers (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone) for loan-phones or warranty swaps. If the device is ‘beyond economical repair’ it will be stripped of its useful parts (to repair others) and minerals (gold, copper, cadmium, etc) and plastics. Almost 90% of a smartphone can be recycled for profit!
– Phone Recycle are for multiple devices, they will organise a courier and arrange a payment for you.
– Mazuma Mobile are a highly rated buyback service, simple structure and good prices for individuals.
– Cash A Phone will also buyback your other electronics; consoles, laptops, mp3 players and more.

About this Mobile E-Recycling Campaign

Twit: @recycleaphone
FB:  /recycleaphone

The ‘Recycle-A-Phone’ Campaign aims to achieve the following goals:

-For you to participate, Recycle One old phone/tablet by selling, donating or recycling it.
– If you like, post up the details to twitter.
– The older, more vintage/’classic’ a device is, the more cred you accumulate.
– If you recycle more devices/chargers, points are earned for a bonus accessory?
– Develop a Downloadable App and Interactive Website…

In order to: change the manufacturing, distribution, corporate and consumer practices

Mining: non-conflict zone minerals, reduction of toxic materials, support for fair-trade devices.
– Retailers: suggest ‘upgrade-and-trade’ offer for retail customers getting a new device to get store/bill credit.
– Distribution: Australian jobs and revenue streams from the re-sell of refurbished devices.
– Manufacturing: ‘greener’ parts, recycled minerals vs. mining enrichment depletion, slave labour sources.
– Corporate: petition offices to arrange ‘mobile-musters’ and donations after company upgrades, corporate refurbishment programs.
– Others: Built-in obsolescence during manufacturing, Market cycles and contract lengths, Consumer cultures, tech development.

By suggesting the following practical applications for actants in Australia:

– Carriers ‘upgrade-and-save’ offer: trade in device to get bill-credit when upgrading.
– Manufacturers ‘pay-the-difference’ incentive: to upgrade your device to the next tier.
– Faulty/Broken Devices ‘almost-brand-new’ scheme: pay to get the same refurbished phone.
– Partnership and/or development of the ecoATM technology to bring to Australia.

Tied together with an APP Proposal:

This will potentially be sponsored by MobileMuster in partnership with Carriers and Manufacturers to have a mandatory install on Smartphone devices (like they have with satchels in the box and past campaigns) 

– General Info and News
– Display Phone Details
– Good Battery Tips
– Data Privacy, Reset
– Highly Rated Devices
– Recommended Apps

– Refurb Price Aggregator
– Charity/Foundation Donations
– Current Campaigns
– Swap/Trade Devices?
– Corporate e-recycling

Outline: What do I know and Why do this?

mobtowerSo why have I chosen to run a campaign about Recycling Phones? I’ve been working in the telecommunications and electronics retail industry for the last 8 years, so at least I know what I’m talking about. I’ve grown as a person through an understanding of how people use mobile technology and how this shapes the world. But moreover how this has both socially distanced and connected people while modulating our emotions, senses and cognition and creating a deep-seeded dependency on microelectronics & wireless infrastructure.. Smartphones are like an extended mind; they supplement our shortcomings in memory, numeracy and literacy while opening up new worlds for ideas, interactions, emotions and desires.

The spread of smartphones requires unearthing rare minerals, and mining operations are often in 3rd world countries and conflict zones where men, women and children die everyday of forced labour, torture and malnutrition.

Under-developed nations often lack basic infrastructure  to properly dispose of waste material. which can harm people and the environment. There are also humanitarian concerns with 2nd world factory working conditions, manufacturing standards and distribution.

There are strong enconomic forces that instill a (roughly) 1 year product cycle and 2 year contract cycle and this is supported by marketing and consumer culture. This high turnover means any smart devices left in a draw unused.

What good does it do? An amazing array of technology (camera x2, gps, gpu, accelerometer, wireless x3, media/apps, etc.) is going to waste. By constantly upgrading you are feeding into this vicious cycle.

Keep your plan-B back-up device and give an old phone or device a new use by selling, donating or it recycling today. Save people and the world.