European mobile industry introduces Eco Rating for phones

Five major operators – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia Company and Vodafone – have joined with 12 handset manufacturers to unveil a new labelling initiative to help customers make better choices about their mobile phones. Set to rollout in Europe in June 2021, the initiative will initially cover phones from: Bullitt Group – Home of CAT and Motorola rugged phones, Doro, HMD Global – Home of Nokia Phones, Huawei, MobiWire, Motorola/Lenovo, OnePlus, OPPO, Samsung Electronics, TCL/Alcatel, Xiaomi and ZTE.

The Eco Rating initiative aims to reduce the environmental impact of mobile phones by helping customers make smarter and more environmentally-aware choices and by encouraging manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of their phones. The information provided will include the impact of producing, using, transporting and disposing of the phones. 

Following a detailed assessment, each mobile phone handset will be given an overall Eco Rating score out of a maximum 100 points. The Eco Rating label will highlight five key aspects of mobile device sustainability:

  • Durability: which measures the robustness of the device, the battery life and the duration of the guarantee for the device and its components.
  • Repairability: covers the design and supporting activities that increase the useful life of the product by improving its reparability, reusability and upgradability.
  • Recyclability: describes how easy it is to recover and disassemble the phone’s components, the information provided to support this and how well materials can be recycled.
  • Climate efficiency: measures the impact of the device during its whole lifecycle. 
  • Resource efficiency: assesses the use of scarce raw materials (eg gold).

Initially the Eco Rating will be rolled out in Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the UK.

The Eco Rating methodology has been developed with technical support and supervision from IHOBE (a publicly-owned agency specialising in Economic Development, Sustainability and the Environment), with the participation of device suppliers, using the latest standards and guidelines from the European Union, ITU-T, ETSI and ISO. New parameters will be introduced over time, where appropriate.

Omnisperience’s View

This is a simple but highly effective initiative from the participating operators and manufacturers that enables customers to make better choices. Although this is being driven by EU goals, it is to be hoped that other operator groups and manufacturers join the programme and help reduce the environmental impact of handsets.

This type of initiative is not simply about environmentalism per se, or even meeting the expectations of increasingly environmentally-aware customers, there is much to be gained from increased recycling. For example, the value of the raw materials contained in US e-waste alone was $7.49 billion in 2019.

  • The UN calculates that almost 54 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually with more than 9,000 phones thrown away every second.
  • Europe leads the world in e-waste recycling, collecting and processing with 42.5% of its e-waste recycled.
  • Asia produces 24.9 million tons of e-waste but only recycles 11.7%.
  • The US generates 6.92 million tons and recycles about 15%.
  • For every million phones that are recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
  • Other operators have their own schemes to support recycling of e-waste. For example, although Verizon isn’t participating in this scheme, it does offer a drop-off scheme for e-waste recycling; MTN runs a similar scheme in South Africa.