How technology companies work to preserve the environment | Business

Apple attracted the spotlight to itself in October: during the launch of the iPhone 12, the American company announced that its cell phones would no longer be sold with a charger and headset in the box. One of the reasons? Reduce the emission of electronic waste, which reached 53.6 million tons in 2019, according to the study Global E-waste Monitor 2020, done by the United Nations (UN).

History, however, gave us something to talk about. While Apple believes the removal is “the right thing to do”, in Brazil, consumer protection agencies have raised questions about the decision. In the middle of the discussion, some questions remain in the air: is it right? It’s wrong? And what should be done and how far should one go to protect nature?

Find out below the actions and measures adopted by technology companies to preserve the environment.

iPhone 12 Pro and charger approved by Anatel (Image: Paulo Higa / Tecnoblog)

Without charger, without headset

This is neither the first nor the only action by Apple in pursuit of the sustainable company seal. In 2018, for example, the company introduced a robot to dismantle 200 iPhones per day for recycling. In addition, the bets are even concentrated on the materials of its products: according to Apple, the iPhone 12 line was made with “rare earth metals 100% recycled in all its magnets”.

And that’s where the story of removing the plug adapter and headphones comes in, which started a little earlier, at the launch of the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE. “The result is a smaller and lighter packaging, allowing 70% more boxes on each pallet”, they explained in October, in relation to cell phones. “All of these changes will reduce two million tons of carbon emissions per year, which is equivalent to removing about 450,000 vehicles from the roads each year.”

For Carlos Canejo, master in environmental engineering, doctor in the environment and professor at the Veiga de Almeida University, however, the focus of this removal may be elsewhere. “I do not think that this is the focus of the strategy proposed by the companies, it seems to me much more a marketing strategy to sell the accessories than actually a concern with environmental issues”, he said, when asked about how this change can be beneficial for the environment.

“Another issue is that these companies sell image, power and status. Therefore, a phone that is not from the cell phone manufacturer does not make you so cool, ”he added. “Manufacturers know this and they also know that you will want to invest to build that image, so they adopt this strategy”.

Samsung Galaxy A71 (Image: Paulo Higa / Tecnoblog)

Samsung Galaxy A71 (Image: Paulo Higa / Tecnoblog)

And what do consumer protection agencies say?

Although the decision is global, consumer protection agencies in Brazil have opened questions about the matter. This is the case of Senacon, which notified both Apple and other companies, such as Samsung, Motorola, Xiaomi, LG and Asus, and Procon-SC. Procon-SP has already gone further: in December, the foundation said it would require the supply of the charger for iPhones.

According to lawyer Letícia Crivelin, from the Assis e Mendes office, Tecnoblog, “Thinking from the perspective of consumer law, there is initially no prohibition on the changes adopted by the company with a view to cashing in”, given that the USB-C cable still accompanies the cell phone, which would allow recharging, and the headset it is not essential for the operation of the device. The lawyer, however, draws attention to two points based on the Consumer Protection Code (CDC), which requires clear and objective information and which the supplier values ​​for the correct functioning of the product.

“Has the consumer been correctly informed about the changes? And as for the power adapter, can using only the cable or old adapters and / or other manufacturers impact the charging process (time) or consumer safety? ”, He asked. In an exclusive statement to Tecnoblog, Apple clarified on the last 5 days that the iPhone warranty will not be affected by chargers approved by Anatel.

Fairphone 3+ (Image: Disclosure / Fairphone)

Fairphone 3+ (Image: Disclosure / Fairphone)

Sustainable electronics

Apple is not the first company to remove the charger and headphones from the box, nor will it be the last. Likewise, it is not the only one to highlight sustainability in its products, since there are even cellphones made exclusively for this purpose.

This is the case of Fairphone, which manufactures “sustainable cell phones” with reused materials, easily repairable and capable of even being updated without having to change the entire phone, if they are compatible. In other words: if the owner of a Fairphone 3 wants to use the camera of the successor Fairphone 3+, which has a higher resolution, just purchase the part on the manufacturer’s own website and exchange it at home.

The phone still leaves aside the charger, headphones and even the USB cable. In its place, there is an unusual accessory: a screwdriver so that the owner can disassemble and assemble it on his own. In addition, the smartphone comes with a two-year warranty and allows the consumer to give their old device in exchange for a discount, so that it can be properly recycled afterwards.

Samsung is another company that takes measures to reduce its environmental impact. In this sense, the company created the Ecological Design Process (Eco-Design), “which covers product planning in the design and development stages, allowing the company to track its performance in terms of energy efficiency, recycling and use of products chemicals ”, explains the Senior Director of Customer Service at Samsung Brazil, Luiz Xavier.

The executive also points out other examples of sustainable actions. This is the case of the Samsung Galaxy S10, launched in 2019 with a recyclable packaging made with paper and cellulose instead of plastic. The South Korean company still adopts technologies to reduce water and energy consumption in refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioning.

Motorola has also taken steps to manufacture its packaging in order to preserve nature. “We use a percentage of recycled material in our transport packaging (overpacks) and also in the packaging of products (gift box),” said Rodrigo Rosa, Motorola’s head of Service. “We do not use recycled material in our manuals”.

IPhone recycling (Image: Disclosure / Apple)

IPhone recycling (Image: Disclosure / Apple)

Proper recycling and disposal

Recycling is an important process to avoid the production of waste. The incidence of this process, however, is low: according to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, in 2019, only 17.4% of the world’s electronic waste was properly collected and recycled. If we take into account Latin America, the figure is even lower: 0.7%.

The companies also have their own actions for reverse logistics. Apple, for example, has a recycling program for the company’s products. Motorola is following the same path, by making “urns for disposing of electronics, including cell phones, batteries, chargers, headphones and batteries” available in technical assistance throughout Brazil, according to Rosa.

The Re + Program is Samsung’s global initiative to collect and recycle electronic waste. According to director Luiz Xavier, the action consists of making collection urns available in brand stores and authorized repair centers to “facilitate and guarantee an environmentally appropriate disposal of products and the consequent reuse of resources”. They are accepted from electronics such as cell phones, notebooks, batteries and chargers, to large products, the second through pick-up at home.

“Samsung also promotes the collection and recycling of all damaged parts and parts that have been removed by Authorized Service Centers,” he added.

In all cases, the items collected are sent to partners of the companies that will take care of recycling or disposing of these devices in an appropriate manner.

Asus intends to recycle 20% of its electronic waste by 2025. For this purpose, in Brazil, the company, which is a member of Green Eletron, an association of manufacturers that seeks to develop “a collective collection system for recycling”, relies on the Zentroca program , which we’ll talk about later.

Cellphone (Image: Eirik Solheim / Unsplash)

Cellphone (Image: Eirik Solheim / Unsplash)

Old appliances are worth a discount

Another form of collection and proper disposal is by exchanging old products for discounts on future purchases, an action that can help preserve the environment. “This is an interesting practice that leads to a circular economic model,” said Canejo to Tecnoblog. “What would be discarded becomes an advantage and a new product”.

The specialist, however, makes a reservation regarding this model. “The question is whether the destination of these electronics that return to the sales units is environmentally appropriate. Are they returning to the manufacturers? Or are they being sold as scrap and discarded without environmental control? ”, He asks. “But the way is right, this is a sigh of hope to create a circular economic model, based on reverse electronics logistics”.

In addition to stores, the manufacturers themselves offer discounts in exchange for old electronics. This is the case of the aforementioned Zentroca, which, according to Asus, is a program in which the consumer can exchange his “used cell phone or notebook for a discount coupon”; the assigned equipment is taken to recycling companies. Motorola stores also accept old phones as part of payment when purchasing a new smartphone.

Samsung also has its own program, known as Samsung Smart Exchange, to guarantee discounts when offering a used smartphone, tablet or smartwatch. According to Xavier, the value of the voucher is informed after an evaluation made by the consumer. “With regard to the devices sold, we have a partner company that buys and sells used smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, with the guarantee that they work as new devices (except for resistance and waterproof and / or dustproof features)”, explains .

Apple still counts on Apple Trade In to exchange for credits on a new purchase. The program, however, is not available in Brazil.

Cell phone tower (Image: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog)

Cell phone tower (Image: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog)

And the operators in this whole story?

And it is not just the electronics manufacturers that operate on this front. In Brazil, Vivo has a reverse logistics program, Recicle with Vivo, as explained by the operator’s Sustainability executive, Joanes Ribas, to the Tecnoblog. Implemented in 2006, the action offers adequate collection of electronic equipment for anyone, whether a customer or not.

The operator, which also reuses working modems and decoders, also launched a campaign in 2020 to make society aware of the proper disposal of electronic waste. Vivo Renova, on the other hand, follows the same path as manufacturers: exchanging old cell phones for a discount on a new purchase. “The devices in good condition are reconditioned and marketed by a partner company in the used market,” said Ribas.

Claro, Oi and TIM also offer electronic collection points for disposal in their stores, as well as offering discounts if the customer takes his old phone. Oi also highlights two actions to preserve the environment: the recovery of Oi TV sets and the use of clean energy in the operator’s global energy consumption matrix, which “went from 15.8% in 2018 to 60% over end of 2020 ”.

“The goal is to reach 100% clean energy in 2022”, they explain. “Within the energy efficiency program, 240 thousand fluorescent lamps were replaced by LED-type lamps, which have greater durability and consume less energy, in the company’s properties in 16 states”.

As with the manufacturers, the accessories and devices collected are recycled or discarded by partner companies of the operators mentioned above.

Junk mail (Image: Curtis Palmer / Flickr)

Junk mail (Image: Curtis Palmer / Flickr)

What will tomorrow look like?

Electronic waste keeps growing. Also according to the report prepared by the UN, from 2014 to 2019, the emission of electronic waste grew 21%. The numbers are expected to rise from 53.6 million tonnes last year to 74.7 million tonnes in 2030.

The situation in Latin America and Brazil is also not very comfortable. Even though Asia is the continent that generated the most electronic waste in 2019, with 24.9 million tons, America comes soon after, with 13.1 million tons. Our country, in turn, produced 2,143 tonnes last year (10.2 kg per capita), South America’s leader. China, in turn, is the largest emitter, with 10,129 tonnes (7.2 kg per capita). capita).

Although Brazil has specific legislation for electronic waste, such as Law 12,305 / 10, which instituted the National Waste Policy (PNRS), and Decree 10,240 / 2020, to regulate the reverse logistics of electronics, according to Carlos Canejo, the country there is no prominent role in the matter.

“The Brazilian government’s focus is not yet on the development of a circular economic model based on non-generation and conscious consumption. We continue with a linear economic model focused on selling / selling new products, ”he said. “As long as this philosophy is not shaken by environmental issues associated with poor solid waste management, we will continue to experience seemingly insoluble problems.”

Lawyer Letícia Crivelin points out that, although this thinking on the part of companies is positive, “the discussion on the impact of electronic product accessories is more profound”. “In addition to the need for research to evaluate the percentage of these products in electronic waste as a whole, the market needs to find solutions for the efficient use of natural resources, mechanisms for reverse logistics, recycling and programmed obsolescence, standardization among suppliers, product packaging, among others. others, ”he says.

Other companies are also likely to launch cell phones without a charger and headset in the box, as is the case with the Samsung Galaxy S21 line, in addition to Apple. “The cell phone will not be sold with a power supply”, signaled Anatel’s approval certificate for the smartphone issued in December 2020. Questioned by Tecnoblog, Samsung did not comment on the matter.

Motorola, for its part, said it has “no plans to remove accessories from its products”. “So far, Asus has nothing official about the matter,” said Asus.

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