Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mobile Consequences

GUERNSEY is almost at saturation point for mobile phones, according to Sure marketing director Paul Taylor. A report shows there are 63,000 mobile customers in the island for a population of about 62,000. The report, compiled by the Office of Utility Regulation, found that from December 2009 the telecoms market increased by 4.5%, yet despite the number of mobile customers remaining largely unchanged, the average spend per customer had increased by 8.4%. There were also more than 22,000 internet customers. Mr Taylor said that the mobile market was nearing its limit.' Based on the population, it is hard to see how much more this can grow and so the challenge now for all operators is to work a lot harder by offering customers excellent service, network reliability and value for money.' However, he believed there was room for growth within the internet market, which had seen a 6% increase in the last six months. But a spokesperson for Wave said Guernsey did not have a finite market, because technology was always changing, and it was confident that growth would continue. '(1)

This is in some respects like Jersey's car market, where there are almost as many cars as people in the Island. When these figures are considered more carefully, it can be seen that there is some degree of oversaturation, because I simply cannot imagine under fives, for example, with a mobile phone, yet they must form part of the figure of 62,000.

There is no mention of recycling in the article. At present, as usual with a consumer society, there are searches underway for new sources of key minerals such as coltan, used in the manufacture of phones. But if more phones were recycled, the mineral could be re-used. What recycling there is seems to be limited and patchy, but if part of the licence given to mobile phone operators included a clause to provide recycling facilities, and ensure phones were recycled free of charge for a small discount on new phones of perhaps 5%, then it would be built into the system. The operators want their licenses, and what could be simpler?

As it stands, the main source for coltan is the Congo, where it fuels the war effort:

"The surging global demand for mobile phones has been helping to bankroll armed groups in Eastern Congo's conflict," said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness. "Mobile phone manufacturers need to undertake checks all the way up their supply chains to make sure they are not buying from mines controlled by militias and military units." (2)

It is not just mobile phones, but all kinds of electronic equipment that fuels the conflict:

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formally Zaire, is complex, complicated by the struggle for power over the country's vast resources by actors within and outside Congo. In recent years, one particular mineral, coltan, has been at the center of the fight. The precious ore is mined in rebel-controlled areas at the expense of national parks and depletion of wildlife. Coltan is a key element in cell phones, computer chips, nuclear reactors, and PlayStations. The market for the mineral has greatly increased in recent years, exacerbating conflict in Congo. (3)

And this has environmental consequences as well. It destroys farming land, and wildlife reserves are despoiled. In particular the gorilla population may well be driven to extinction because of the pressures on their habitat by the mining operations:

Farmers have been forced off their land or into mining as war has ravaged their land. Miners threaten the environment of eastern lowland gorillas. Miners are killing elephants and gorillas on wildlife reserves and national parks. While the numbers of wildlife are dwindling, the environment is being degraded ("Miners" 13 April 2001; "Cell" 2 May 2001). Coltan mining provides great wealth for warring sides, takes away the livelihoods of people who live on the land, and destroys wildlife. (4)

It is about time that some kind of "ethical sourced" badge rather like the "free range" or "fair trade" other product labels are provided on mobiles and other equipment using coltan so that the consumer can make an inform decision as to whether it should be bought or not. Coltan has other sources such as Australia, and need not fuel the war in the Congo.

I don't think the operators will do this of their own accord, and perhaps the law needs to be changed so that they have to state the origins of their supply. But as Leo Hickman mentions in the Guardian, "Without a cast-iron certification scheme to guarantee these claims, there is sadly still no way for consumers to know they are not complicit in this trade."(5)

Lastly, there are two local collection points for recycling mobiles:

Jersey Telecom Retail Outlet
Jersey Post Office counters

Do you have one lurking in a cupboard or drawer, gathering dust? Why not recycle it?


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