Last month, I came across a new cell phone model by Motorolla: W233 Renew, a cell phone constructed from 25 percent post-consumer recycled plastic and certified carbon free.

The tag line on the phone: It's the responsible choice for the environment.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I wanted to throw the phone at the wall and scream “GREENWASHING!!!”

Here are my reasons why:

First, if Motorolla wants to produce an environmentally responsible phone, I recommend they start by phasing out all toxins from their phones. From arsenic to cadmium, beryllium to lead, cell phones contain a lot of toxins. These contaminate the communities neighbouring production facilities, and leach and off-gass during use and when incinerated. These toxins have been associated with cancer and neurological disorders.

Second, I can purchase pens, chairs and water bottles made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic, so why is the phone only made from 25 percent post-consumer plastic? Furthermore, if Motorolla is able to make one of their models from recycled plastic, then why not all of them?

Lastly, encouraging the public to discard their cell phone for one that is more environmentally responsible seems bass-ackwards! On average, a cellular telephone is kept for 18 months before a newer model is purchased. In most cases, the old model ends up in the household garbage.

Here is where I do see some glimmer of hope: Motorola seems to have developed a Take-Back Program, wherein those who purchase the W233 Renew are furnished with a postage-paid envelope to return their old phone (not necessarily Motorolla brand) for recycling, at no charge. The company says it will either refurbish the phone and resell it to customers in poorer countries at reduced rates or strips the phone for parts. (A bit more digging is required to verify whether this is indeed carried out as indicated.)

Motorolla also takes back used batteries through the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's battery recycling program. (To recycle your own rechargable batteries, without going through the middleman, enter your postal code and find drop off locations here.)

Despite its claims to recycle used phones, the new Motorolla W233 Renew itself is a classic example of a company trying to jump on the green bandwagon. Even the phone itself is green! The key here is when examining the company from a more holistic perspective one can see that the company has not changed. They’ve just produced another object for the public to consume.


Learn more about cell phones, wireless waste and life cycles:

Study: Cell Phone Waste Harmful, Wired magazine

Guide to Greener Electronics, Greenpeace (website)

Guide to Greener Electronics, Greenpeace (actual report, PDF) 

The Secret Life of Cell Phones

Motorola W233 Renew press release