Motorola’s Renew cell phone made partly from recycled plastic water bottles

If you ever felt like taking your boat for a spin about 900 km off the California coast, you’d eventually reach the North Pacific Gyre. It wouldn’t look like much on the surface, but dip in a net and you’d pull it up to find it full of plastic debris.

The Gyre is a Quebec-sized meeting of ocean currents that swirl together and function as an aggregating force for all of the plastic debris in the sea. A writhing mass of underwater garbage reaches 30 metres deep, a disturbing reminder of modern civilization’s horrible impact on Earth’s natural environment.

No wonder the green movement is hip these days. A parade of consumer trends have indicated that marketing your product as environmentally sustainable is often met with success.

Motorola Inc. is the latest to want to cash in on this trend with the launch of its Renew cell phone.

The slender phone’s plastic components are made from used plastic water bottles that were recovered from land fills. It has been given a CarbonFree Certified stamp by non-profit organization Carbonfund.org, which encourages companies to create green products and assists with a marketing label.

The idea to make a phone that was 25 per cent recycled plastic water bottles came when Motorola discovered they were widely available, says Bill Olson, director of sustainability and stewardship at Motorola. It took four years of research and development to perfect the plastic recipe for use in a mass market phone.

“We spent years on the plastic and its formulation to make sure it was just as rugged and just as reliable as existing plastic used in our phones today,” he says. “We did everything we could within the limits of technology to make this phone as green as possible.”

Using plastic water bottles from landfills may strike a chord with the environmentally savvy.

Since entering the marketplace several years ago, bottled water has become a waste nightmare.

Almost nine out of 10 plastic bottles end up in the trash instead of in recycling.

With Canadians consuming more than two billion litres of bottled water a year, and the world consuming an astounding 190 billion litres a year, you can see why waste diversion is needed in a bad way.

Everyone from David Suzuki to the United Church has protested against the sale of bottled water. So it’s easy to classify it as a hot-button issue.

The Renew itself is a fairly ordinary mass market phone. It offers a compact and light design, featuring a 128×128 screen with 65K colour. The plastic casing is coloured (guess what?) green.

It supports up to 2 GB removable media (mini SD) for the device’s mp3 player, and has a 2.5mm headphone jack. It also includes Motorola’s “CrystalTalk” technology to cancel out background noise.

“We decided as a company we were going to start with the mass market handset,” Olson says. “It’s basically a phone that does a great job of making phone calls.”

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Renew’s specs is the battery life. It will allow you to talk for nine hours straight, and survive on standby for an impressive 18 days. It all goes back to the phone’s green image.

“We’re concerned about ‘greenwashing’ and being honest about any claims we’re making about this device and its level of greenness,” Olson says.

‘Greenwashing’ is a term applied to products that want to cash-in on the environmental trend without actually doing much or anything to help the environment. Motorola has gone to some lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen here.

The phone comes in packaging that is one-fifth smaller than standard Motorola packaging.

The packaging and manual are made from 100 per cent recycled materials and are recyclable too.

The Renew itself is recyclable and can be disassembled in nine seconds so the plastic and metal components are separated and dealt with appropriately. The phone comes with an envelope that you can use to send it, and whatever other phones you have sitting in your desk drawer, away for recycling.

Motorola also bought some carbon offsets to make up for the difference, when they couldn’t cut any more emissions out of the phone’s manufacture and sale.

“At some point there’s a level where you can’t reduce any further” Olson says. “This phone will pass anyone’s ‘greenwash’ test.”

The GSM phone has a carrier in Canada, which can’t be revealed until the Renew’s launch. It is expected to be available April 2.

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