While programs like MobileMuster have changed the way we think about e-waste, AMTA chief executive officer Chris Althaus says understanding the social compact is key to successful product stewardship
CWS: What are the key considerations for product stewardship within the telco/mobile sector this year?
CA: The mobile telecommunications industry is constantly working to reduce the environmental impacts of its products. The commitment to product stewardship and robust environmental management can be seen in measurable improvements across the product life cycle. From environmentally-conscious product design and cleaner production through to responsible reuse and recycling, the industry is proactive and mindful of community expectations.
Here, the MobileMuster program, managed by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), is the perfect example of a voluntary, government-accredited product stewardship program. Developed and refined over several years, MobileMuster provides Australians with a free service to help ensure that their old mobiles and accessories are safely, securely and ethically recycled at the end of their useful lives. A key consideration for the program is to maximise consumer awareness and provide convenient drop-off points nationwide.
What campaigns are in the works?
Every year MobileMuster partners with a charity to run a joint campaign incentivising mobile phone users to recycle their old mobiles. The partnership works to grow awareness of mobile phone recycling and provide consumers with an incentive to recycle during the campaign period. During summer of 2016-17, MobileMuster joined forces with OzHarvest to tackle two of Australia’s growing waste issues: e-waste and food waste. Other charity partners in the past have included Oxfam, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Landcare and the Salvation Army. Since 2005, MobileMuster has given charity partnerships over $750,000 and invested millions of dollars promoting these campaigns. Our commitment to supporting socially-oriented initiatives remains an important part of how MobileMuster strives for sustainable outcomes.
The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to drive uptake of devices – are we just setting ourselves up for a bigger e-waste problem? What do we need to do now to address that?
The IoT together with 5G and other ICT innovations will transform society in diverse ways, and the benefits will be significant across various sectors and industries. We are also mindful of the social and environmental impacts that may arise and will work towards designing out the negatives by conducting relevant research and partnering with key stakeholders to always focus on positive outcomes and reduced impacts.
The telecommunications industry has a solid track record on product stewardship, as evidenced by MobileMuster, and the same principles of robust environmental management and social engagement would apply to how we grasp the benefits of IoT.
IoT in itself also has the potential to design and deliver advanced environmental protection measures, through attention to waste avoidance, emissions reduction, water conservation, consumer feedback and numerous other areas related to renewables and resource conservation.
When we talk about superseded technology, it’s easy to classify it as e-waste, but a lot of discarded products would still have a significant lifespan. Do we need a more robust conversation around reuse?
The emergence of smartphone technology and apps has increased consumer demand for greater speed, less latency and improved quality. The mobile telecommunications industry provides for the reuse of technology through refurbishment, trade-in and leasing programs. These are becoming increasingly popular, as consumers want to upgrade their smartphone technology to take advantage of improved functionality and applications available on the market.
Through annual market research undertaken by AMTA, we know that reuse is a significant stage in the product life cycle, with more people selling their old mobiles or giving them to family and friends each year. Currently 18 percent of Australians plan to give their mobiles to family, friends or charity and 10 percent sell them or trade them in. The MobileMuster program also works with number of reuse partners to help ensure that we recycle any mobile phone or components that have come through their programs that have reached their end-of-life.
It is important to note that MobileMuster is focused on mobile phone products that have reached their
end of life. The majority of products and associated accessories flowing through the program are over three years old and in many ways represent redundant technologies. Many of these devices also have little to no resale value, and this is where MobileMuster steps in to provide a free take-back service ensuring they are recycled in a secure and environmentally sound way.
Recently, the telecommunications carriers have been switching off their 2G networks as the evolution of mobile services relies on 3G and 4G technologies, which offer greater speed and quality for consumers
– with 5G expected around 2020. As consumers upgrade their phones, the mobile phone carriers are encouraging consumers to recycle the old 2G handsets, which can be done in-store at Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.
MobileMuster’s ‘mobile for a meal’ campaign with OzHarvest shows the value of social programs, rather than just the business opportunity arising from e-waste recycling. Are we likely to see further initiatives in regard to social impact and social stewardship?
Our market research shows that mobile phone users are motivated by social stewardship campaigns. There will always be those that will recycle because they know they can or because of the environmental benefits, however there are those that need an added incentive or obvious social benefit. This is where our charity partnerships have assisted in raising awareness of mobile phone recycling along with driving increased collections for the program.
MobileMuster has been using these partnerships for several years and will continue to establish productive collaborations with social enterprises and community- oriented organisations. The partnership with OzHarvest helps us tackle two of the biggest waste issues confronting the community today: electronic waste and food waste. We regularly review our partnerships to help reinvigorate our campaign message, along with reaching more mobile users nationwide.
MobileMuster is AMTA’s flagship environmental initiative – more details can be found at www.mobilemuster.com.au.
This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine.