Few statistics highlight the popularity of the cellular telephone in South Africa better than this: more South Africans have access to a cell phone than to clean water. It seems the technological revolution is both more important and more powerful than its poorer cousins, the social and political revolutions. And within the technological revolution, cell phones are the Molotov cocktails, being hurled with increasing regularity, with cell phone usage rising from 17% of adults using a cell phone in 2000 to 76% in 2010. Today, more South Africans (29 million) use cell phones than radio (28 million), TV (27 million), and personal computers (6 million). Only 5 million South Africans use landline phones.
There is, perhaps, an obvious reason for the cell phone’s meteoric rise to leader of the revolution: it is not simply a means of staying in contact, but is also an easily procured status symbol, a digital diamanté for the masses that makes the gulf between rich and poor seem ever so slightly slimmer. We use it to surf the web, do our banking, and communicate on a variety of social media platforms. We use it to show our peers that we are leaders, that we are contactable and that we are part of the revolution.
How we use these devices highlights the fact that a cell phone is not just a device to make telephone calls on. SMS texting has taken off as the country's fastest growing method of getting a message across.
The cell phone as an internet device is also on the rise – 11% of South Africans use their cell phones to go online, and consumers aged between 25 and 34 are the heaviest users. Buy, use, discard
There are currently 59.5 million cell phone subscriptions in South Africa, more than one per person.4 Why so many? A significant factor, is that the market for new phones is largely dependent on upgrades. Most of us could happily use the same phone we were using 10 years ago (the lifespan given to phones by most manufacturers), yet most people on contracts upgrade to a new phone every 18 months. No surprise then that a recent study found that cell phone waste is growing by 9% every year. However, this is not the whole story. A survey carried out by Nokia discovered only 3% of old handsets are being thrown into landfill, and just 9% of people recycled their old cell phone. Twice as many said that they didn’t even realise it was possible to recycle a handset.
So, where are all the handsets? Well, nearly half are kept at home without ever being used again, with people in the UK now owning, on average, five cell phones.
On a global scale, the largest retailer, Nokia, states that it takes back just 3% of old phones; for Samsung the figure is 9%, LG 7% and Motorola 2.5%, while Sony Ericsson no longer provides estimates.7 “If each of the 3 billion people in the world who owns a cell phone recycled just one device, 240,000 tons of raw materials could be salvaged and greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road could be saved,” said Markus Terho, director of environmental affairs at Nokia South Africa in 2008.
“Precious materials can be reclaimed and reused in products such as kettles, park benches, dental fillings or even saxophones and other metal musical instruments. Plastics that can’t be recycled are burnt to provide energy for the recycling process, and other materials are ground up into chips and used as construction materials and for building roads. In this way nothing has to go to landfill”.
In South Africa, perhaps the best way to recycle cell phones, and any e-waste, is through the Ewaste Association of South Africa (Ewasa). According to Ewasa, consumers can make drop-offs at points outside Makro stores. Go to www.ewaste.org.za
for more information, or call 031 575 8119.
Globally, there are a number of recycling websites and companies that pay for old cell phones. The phones these companies buy are often sold on in other countries where new phones are prohibitively expensive. In the case of Envirofone, 98% of the phones bought are reconditioned before being sold on in Africa and China, the rest are recycled, so precious metals can be extracted and reused.
Article courtesy of Ethical Living Magazine. For more, get the latest copy.
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