The tech giants that manufacture mobile phones should provide the means for consumers to recycle old devices, according to a survey released Monday of about 6,000 people in six countries.
The research, conducted by independent polling service Ipsos MORI on behalf of Greenpeace’s East Asia branch, polled adults in China, South Korea, Germany, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Nearly half of respondents overall agreed that it’s up to companies ― as opposed to the government or network providers, for example ― to help consumers recycle their devices. Many manufacturers, like Apple, do give consumers those means. But their practices aren’t perfect.
More than half of respondents also said companies are releasing new phone models too quickly. Environmental groups argue that the constant stream of upgrades encourages people to buy a new device instead of repairing their existing ones. As a result, tossed-out iPhones and Androids make up much of the 3 million metric tons of hazardous electronic waste generated each year, according to a 2014 study by the United Nations.
“The humble smartphone puts enormous strain on our environment from the moment they are produced ― often with hazardous chemicals ― to the moment they are disposed of in huge e-waste sites,” Chih An Lee, a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said in a statement. “Over half of respondents across the countries surveyed agree that manufacturers are releasing too many new models, many designed to only last a few years.”
Issues with recycling modern electronics aren’t new: Tech companies across the board appear to be focusing on smaller, slimmer products over recyclability, as The Huffington Post reported in June.
For example, many of Apple’s designs for iPads, MacBooks and iPhones make it hard ― and even impossible ― to repair them or recycle them safely. The company has been fighting a secret war in the states over legislation that would force it to hand over schematics and instructions ― and, much to Apple’s chagrin, proprietary information ― to recyclers.
And while Apple offers refurbished models of its products and has a recycling process in place, the company has long been against third-party repair shops. There’s also little way of knowing whether your iProduct is being recycled responsibly in the first place.
Apple didn’t return a request for comment, but the company has maintained its dedication to recycling programs. It told HuffPost this year that it helps recycle millions of pounds of electronics equipment every year. Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The inability of the average consumer to recycle or repair their devices in the way they want, along with an ever-increasing frequency of new products, helps create a consumer base that’s more likely to buy a new item than go through the process of recycling. But surveyed consumers seem keen on that option.
Greenpeace’s answer to the problem is the same one HuffPost has reported on for months: We need products with a design that allows for recycling in the first place.
“The new product design,” the Greenpeace report concludes, “should take recycling into consideration from the beginning of the production phase, using the recycled materials instead of virgin materials, and making the products easier to be dismantled at the end.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said Apple is fighting in court against legislation that would force it to hand over schematics and instructions to recyclers. It is lobbying state legislatures on the issue.