Change law to prevent old smartphones ending up in landfills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 11:15pm

Notwithstanding its decision to recover about 4.5 million smartphones from customers and retailers following the battery explosions of its Galaxy Note 7, Samsung had not offered the public any details on how to handle the resulting e-waste.

Due to the lack of transparency, Greenpeace has asked concerned citizens around the world to pressure Samsung to deal with the environmental aftermath responsibly.

Yet, the e-waste generated by the Samsung Note 7 fiasco is merely the tip of the iceberg of a larger and longer-term environmental problem that requires the forceful actions of governments and customers in Hong Kong and around the world.

The disposal of mobile devices has had a severe and large-scale impact on the global environment. Over 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide in 2013 alone, most of which would eventually be disposed and exported as e-waste to the developing world. The inappropriate and inadequate processing of such e-waste has led to heavy metal contamination of the land for agriculture and toxic pollutants being released into the atmosphere.

The root of the problem is that mobile phone firms are frequently releasing new models and so these phones have short lifespans. In the US, for example, mobile phones are replaced, on average, every 18 months.

Therefore, it is up to governments and customers around the world to decide if they want to continue the present unsustainable practices of getting new mobile phones every one or two years.

Instead of buying new phones, customers should be allowed to upgrade and replace specific parts of their devices.

The technologies of modular mobile phones have been seriously explored by companies such as Google. Yet, to catalyse such an industry-wide paradigm shift, major mobile phone companies including Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Huawei have to be held accountable for generating enormous amounts of e-waste.

In Hong Kong, the recently passed Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Electrical Equipment and Electronic Equipment) Ordinance 2016, which does not cover mobile phones, requires manufacturers and importers of regulated electrical equipment to collect and recycle old machines from customers free of charge.

To offer more incentives for the mobile phone industry to protect the environment, mobile phones should be recognised as regulated electrical equipment in the ordinance and people should be prohibited from throwing them away in landfill sites.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong