Weird Green Mobile Technology Touted At Science Museum London

By Richard Moss | 21 March 2006
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a photograph of a flowerpot with a sunflower and three mobile phones with sunflower motifs on them

Just pop it in a flower pot and watch it grow - it's the sunflower phone cover. © Warwick University

A mobile phone that biodegrades into a sunflower and a circuit board made out of lasagne are just two of the innovative examples of green mobile phone technology revealed in a new Science Museum exhibition opening in London on March 29 2006.

Government Local Environment Quality Minister, Ben Bradshaw MP, who will be opening ‘Dead Ringers’ at Antenna - the science and technology news gallery of the Science Museum has already praised the exhibition for raising some important issues.

"We tend to upgrade our phones without thinking about what happens to our old one when we no longer need it,” said the Minister. “So what should we do with our old phones when we do? And what can manufacturers do to make it easier for people to make the right choices for the environment?”

The exhibition is sponsored by waste management company SITA through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, with additional funding from Defra, and it is full of innovative answers to the Minister’s questions.

a photograph of two men opening the doors of a large lorry out which spills thousands of mobile phones

There is a big mobile phone mountain growing in the UK. © Fonebak

Scientists and manufacturers are currently looking at ways of designing phones that are better for the environment, and some of their ideas on display here include circuit boards made from chicken feathers and phones featuring new smart metals that take themselves apart for recycling.

However, the aforementioned sunflower phone is one of the stars of the show. Its prototype cover with implanted sunflower seed allows the sunflower to grow, getting its additional nutrients from the biodegrading phone cover.

This unique design‚ dreamed up by researchers from Warwick University and materials company PVAXX, is yet to hit the shelves but should give green minded mobile users the option to simply bury their used phone covers in the garden.

1712 mobile phones are upgraded every hour in the UK alone, which means there is a sizeable mountain of unusable and unrecyclable phones kicking around the country’s already overburdened refuse system.

a photograph showing an electric circuit board on a sheet of lasagne

Perhaps electric circuits mounted on sheets of lasagne are the answer? © Jennie Hills/Science Museum

In response to this looming problem further inventive design ideas are revealed in the exhibition, which includes new and biodegradeable battery designs and innovations from Nokia, which may reduce the need for toxic flame retardants, aiding easier recycling of mobile-derived plastics.

There are around 50 million mobiles in the UK - a figure that is fast catching up to the current UK population at just under 60.5 million. But with global usage of mobile phones expected to reach 2 billion this year, this love of electronic gadgets is creating a worldwide waste problem.

Mobiles are designed to last around 10 years, but we tend to change them around every 18 months, adding to current disposal issues.

‘Dead Ringers?’ also investigates how the coming European-wide WEEE (WasteElectrical and Electronic Equipment) legislation will affect industry and consumers, and the methods scientists and industry are using to tackle the waste problem.

a photograph of a mobile phone being held up to the camera by a person

The all new NEC biodegradable phone is not yet available in the UK. © Jennie Hills/Science Museum

“These are some of the core questions we are raising in our current review of England's waste strategy so the Science Museum's exhibition is especially timely," added the Minister.

A simple solution could be to upgrade less often, creating less waste. Chucking phones in landfill will no longer be a legal option once the new government regulations are in place.

If you want your say on the Government's review on England's waste, the consultation paper and accompanying Regulatory Impact Assessment and Environment Report are available from the Defra websiteDeadline for comments is May 9 2006.

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