Downgrade your phone

1st July 2011 by

After a few years of setting monthly challenges I have to admit that each month it gets harder to think of a challenge not yet done. But this month it was easy, so easy that I really couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it before. It came to me as I was explaining to someone that I was still working out how to use my ‘new old phone’ and they were laughing at me trying to learn the functions of outdated technology.

If you wear cast-off clothes, hanker after hand-me-downs, borrow books, reduce your refuse and count the miles on your food, then you should really think about downgrading your phone too. In a world where you can constantly upgrade your phone, your wardrobe, your life, buck the trend and stick with old things that work.

Ethical Consumer says:
Like so many aspects of our technology-driven capitalist society, mobile phones are racked with contradictions. On the one hand they have become a powerful tool for social change – on the other, the sourcing of raw materials, their manufacture and their disposal are real causes for concern.

Best Buy goes to Nokia*, but it’s very much a case of ‘could do better’. It has the highest ethiscore of the companies that do best on our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rankings table and it tops Greenpeace’s green guide (see the full Mobile Phones report).

Buying second hand will always be an environmentally preferable choice.

More than 28 million mobile handsets are sold in the UK each year. Manufacturers estimate a lifespan of 10 years, but most mobile networks offer an upgrade every 18 months. E-waste is growing year on year and the recent series of i-gadgets with an expected obsolescence of 2 years, are doing nothing to help this trend.

Waste aside, there is the issue of conflict minerals which should cause concern for anyone with a heart. Global Witness are the experts on this:

Conflict minerals are used by armed groups to fund violence and insurrection. Global Witness’s work on conflict minerals currently focuses on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where fighting has continued for over 10 years, driven by the trade in valuable minerals. Millions of people have died, and many more have been displaced.

There are four main minerals being mined in the Congo: cassiterite (the ore for tin), coltan (the ore for a rare metal called tantalum), wolframite (tungsten ore), and gold. The illicit trade provides rebel groups and units of the national army with tens of millions of dollars a year that they use to buy guns and shore up their rival campaigns.

The electronics industry is one of the main destinations for these metals, which end up in mobile phones, laptops, and other consumer products.  Tin is used as a solder in circuit boards; tantalum goes into capacitors, small components used to store electricity; tungsten is used in the vibrating function of mobile phones; gold is also used by the electronics industry – as a coating for wires.

World prices for each of these metals have been rising over the past year, giving armed groups in the eastern Congo all the more incentive to target or keep hold of the mines.

Global Witness is calling on the DRC government to demilitarise the mining sector immediately. We are also urging donor governments and electronics companies to do their bit to clean up this bloody trade by exercising proper controls over their supply chains.

Whilst mining corporations and mobile phone companies are profiting, and we’re all busy upgrading, there are reports of men, women and children being forced to mine coltane at gunpoint in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 80% of the world’s known coltane supply is in the DRC, a country ravaged by civil war where sexual violence is rife. So, lovely as your new generation i-phone, pad and pod may be, the reality of their production is pretty nasty. The only rational choice in this situation, I’m sure you’ll agree, is to downgrade (or stagnate)  your phone.

– Buy your old phones here, here or here.

– Recycle your phone here or here.

– Read the full Ethical Consumer Report here.

– Read the full Global Witness Report ‘Congo’s mineral trade in the balance’ here.

– Join the FairPhone campaign.

*This same Ethical Consumer report also lists boycott calls against mobile phone companies including Nokia ‘for providing the Iranian regime with a “monitoring center” that enables security forces to tap cell phones, scramble text messages, and interrupt calls. Nokia Siemens new surveillance system was said to have enhanced the regime’s ability to crack down on dissent during recent protests.’

2 Responses to “Downgrade your phone”

  1. Liz says:

    Good challenge! And I’ve got an even cheaper alternative to buying a second-hand phone:

    Sometime last spring my mobile died, so I asked a few friends if they had old phones sitting around that still worked fine but were collecting dust. Almost everyone said yes, and I acquired 3 ‘new old phones’ immediately without even trying. For free!

  2. Kirsty says:

    Thanks Jo! I was bought an i-phone for my birthday and it was great – especially because I am so disorganised. But now I am starting to see the ‘designed obsolescence’ creep in. First the button to switch it off stopped working. Now the volume buttons don’t work either, so I have a phone stuck on the middle-volume level. Not good for meetings (it rings at inappropriate times) and not good for being stuck at the bottom of my handbag (I can’t hear it!).

    So I am going to search out my old Nokia and return to the good old days of THAT ringtone and the simplicity of it all.


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