Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mixed signals.. means bad reception?

Recently I was watching the BBC's special coverage of Africa to coincide with the G8, and my ears pricked up when the topic of mobile phone recycling came up. At Junkk.com we seem to get a press release almost every day about some scheme to give our old ones new homes, all of which we have been happy to put on our pages (though I do question the sheer number of different schemes, whose inevitable separate administration and logistical streams must eat into the total benefits hugely. Maybe it’s time to consider consolidating?).

It was not the most in-depth piece, but quite interesting as it traced a discarded 'old' mobile from the UK to a village in Nigeria. I wish I had a better appreciation of the various factors involved, but I have to say I came away with a certain sense of unease. I'm not against anyone making a profit from waste (I live in hope), but there were an awful lot of people in the 'chain' who looked like they were doing more than well out of some people at the end of the chain who were not. And while the fragrant BBC reporter did her best to delve, a comfortably be-suited spokesperson for this industry seemed to be saying that 'they' should not have to choose between putting food on the table and, to be slightly flip (in the absence of a cable-based terrestrial network, mobiles do at last offer viable communications), downloading the latest crazy frog ringtone. Not exactly what Saint Bob had in mind, I'm sure. Sometimes we all have to make choices, and I'd frankly prefer my aid money went on genuine need-based growth projects, and not some local corporation or street guy rooking his neighbours to make a call instead of eating. Trust is a fragile commodity.

With many trade and child protection (and direct environmental consequences such as managed forests) issues abounding, there is a lot of scrutiny on what comes IN these days, and rightly so. But maybe the time has come to be a bit more concerned about where our re-useable or re-cyclable products are GOING? It's great that we are more and more concerned enough to dispose of things responsibly, and I'd hate to propose anything that puts any obstacles (even if it is a few minutes of extra time) in the way of to doing so. But especially when people's disposal choices are being influenced by charitable aims, I think in making their decision they have a right to know, and should make their choice through having a clear understanding of the path to the beneficiaries. I guess that's a project for someone like us, then, when we can afford the time and money to get all investigative. But in the interim if anyone knows of any comparisons of such schemes, we'd be happy to print it.

I'd suggest the people best placed to do this properly, from information to collection to dissemination, are the major mobile handset and service companies who sell us the things in the first place. Managing this well would be a great CSR opportunity, do good in the right places at fair prices… and cut out the dodgy middlemen. A plan?