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Are mobile phones making the UK a throwaway nation?

Mobile phone evolution

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As the UK is labelled the worst recycler in Europe , this year has seen the launch of the cheapest ever mobile phones – Nokia and Carphone Warehouse have both released models costing only 90p and 99p respectively. We can now buy a mobile phone for less than a cheese sandwich, making our possessions disposable, even if (as economic turbulence reigns) our incomes are increasingly less so.

So what does this hark back to our technological beginnings represent in the smartphone era? Does selling a phone at such a minimal price generate a negative influence on how we value our belongings?

The 90p phone seems to represent an anomaly in the mobile phone market. Popular phones available today often weigh in at hundreds of pounds in value, with mobile phone companies often willing to give them away for free in exchange for a two year contract- a clear indication of the increasing expectations of our mobile devices.

The commercial value of these phones and the sophistication of today’s technology means that there are constant updates, tweaks and changes as developers race to increase the capabilities of our phones. Even as they become more expensive, they are becoming more expendable in the perpetual surge for technological superiority.

Perhaps a 90p phone is a rejection of this increasing involvement of technology in our daily lives? This year has also seen the release of what must be the world’s simplest mobile phone since its invention: one that can simply call, text and has a sweet little address book (the kind with pages) and pen to keep your numbers. The evidence, however, seems to point the other way. We can’t get enough of new gadgets.

Improvements to technology this decade haves been staggering – just as we were becoming accustomed to the once novel idea of taking pictures with our phones, maybe even receiving emails, we have seen the mobile slowly expand the role it plays in our lives; its primary appeal is no longer its ability to make and receive calls, but instead as a medium that encapsulates our work, entertainment, contact and socialisation. Smartphones now account for one in every five of our mobile phone purchases.

Although each new development does not necessarily mean a new device, the constant regeneration of mobiles has seen a huge increase in wastage – figures  reveal a million mobile phones are upgraded each month, and most of these will end up in landfill sites where, unbiogradable, they will lie, leaking toxic waste for an indeterminate amount of time. It is estimated that 40% of all metal in landfill comes from communication devices, abandoned in the clamour for the newest electronics.

So who are these cheap phones for? I’d hazard a guess that teenagers aren’t the market being targeted here. The last one I spoke to looked at me aghast at the thought of paying any money whatsoever for a phone and not even receiving access to Facebook, so it has been broadly suggested that they might cater for the very elderly, the very young, as temporary phones when our ‘proper’ phones are broken or lost.

The idea that they serve as replacements for when we regularly lose or break phones is strangely depressing in a time where price surpasses quality in importance, when most of the population has made its peace with throwing clothes away after one season and require cheaper possessions as they become more dispensable and out of date with increasing speed.

There are, of course ways of recycling these phones; sites which will repurpose them for resale or dispose of them safely – you could even stand to make some money and, although in some cases the sum is mostly negligible, it is advisable if only for the environmental benefits. But equally, we could throw less away, use things for longer and value things more. 90p or £90, the rethink is fundamentally not in the price of the device, but the thoughts behind the purchase.


  • Angela King

    Maybe mobile phone companies send out handset upgrades they should send pre-paid envelopes for old phones to be returned – and the money then raised from recycling these could be knocked of the new contract.

  • wilmajeffrey

    because of the constant changes in new technology, this is the price we pay ,it will always create a surplus of phones,albeit defunct in the makers eyes,therefore cheap phones will continue to be ,it is a vicious circle, and only the manufacturers profit.

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