New Cell Phones Get Green Spin


RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J. (TheStreet) -- Move over, Apple iPhone. Here comes the e-phone.

While phone-service carriers and electronics makers have long supported environmental initiatives such as recycling old devices, they have turned their efforts up a notch recently by marketing new devices that are both ecologically and literally green, bright green, allowing consumers to flaunt their love for Mother Earth.

Last winter, Motorola (Stock Quote: MOT) teamed up with T-Mobile (Stock Quote: T) to release the W233 Renew, a no-frills phone made of bright green plastic from recycled water bottles. Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (Stock Quote: SNE) in June launched its GreenHeart portfolio, including a phone with a built-in pedometer to encourage walking. And on Aug. 16, Sprint Nextel (Stock Quote: S) will start selling the Reclaim, a green smartphone from Samsung Electronics, which comes in both a vibrant "earth green" and a soothing "ocean blue."

"Everybody is interested in preserving the planet and protecting the environment right now," says Samsung spokeswoman Kim Titus.

The Reclaim is free of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC; the text on its box is printed with soy-based ink; its user manual is available only online to save paper; its packaging is made of recycled materials; and 40% of its casing is made out of corn-based plastic. Critics say these so-called bioplastics are environmentally taxing to produce.

For example, corn production often involves the overuse of pesticides. But bioplastics are arguably better for landfills than run-of-the-mill materials. And if you buy the phone directly from Sprint, $2 of the purchase will go to the Nature Conservancy's Adopt-a-Tree program.

The Reclaim is cheap for a feature-heavy phone. For $49.99 and the requisite two-year contract, you get a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a Web browser, a 2-megapixel camera with 3X zoom lens and a camcorder.

"Our goal wasn't just to make an eco-friendly phone just for the sake of making an eco-friendly phone," Titus says.

Analysts say green efforts by cell phone providers are important to many consumers, but most don't care enough to seek out the programs. According to a recent survey by ABI Research, 50% of respondents said buying a green handset was important to them, but 60% weren't familiar with the environmental initiatives of carriers or handset makers.

That might explain why only 10% of cell phones are recycled each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An estimated 130 million cell phones will be replaced this year, creating 65,000 tons of waste, according to ReCellular, an Ann Arbor, Mich., company that donates, resells or recycles old phones. The EPA estimates that if everyone recycled their cell phones, the energy saved would be enough to power 18,500 U.S. households for a year.

To boost recycling efforts, the EPA has launched a cell phone program involving major carriers, phone makers and retailers, including AT&T (Stock Quote: ATT), Best Buy (Stock Quote: BBY), Nokia (Stock Quote: NOK), Staples (Stock Quote: SPLS) and Verizon Communications (Stock Quote: VZ). Many of these companies offer incentives to encourage customers to bring in their old phones. Sprint, for example, offers a credit of as much as $50 per phone.

You can still do your part just by sticking your phone into an envelope and mailing it to ReCellular. If you're worried that a snoopy recycler might steal your contact information from you phone, ReCellular offers a downloadable data eraser.

"Compared to a lot of things, handsets are really not bad for the environment as long as they are recycled and disposed of properly," says Mike Morgan, an analyst at ABI Research who follows the mobile device industry. "Refurbishing is the most environmentally friendly approach. But if a phone is so old that the '80s are calling to get it back, then it will be recycled and the plastics will be put into another phone."

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