The leader in recycling

04 Aug 2007

You can generally get an idea of how big companies are by the amount of waste they generate. You can also get a clear indication of their commitment to recycling and environmental issues by the percentage of that waste they recycle.

The Dow-Jones Sustainability Index has ranked BT as the world's top performing company in the telecoms sector for the last six years, but BT is lucky that recycling, although one of the criteria, is clearly not the major one.

The NTT Group doesn't make this Dow-Jones world index, but comparing the recycling of the two is an eye-opener: BT in the UK recycled only 34% of its 107,609 tons of waste in FY2004, improving that percentage to 42% in both FY2006 and FY2007. In sharp contrast the NTT Group recycled over 91% of its 0.85 million tons of waste in FY2006, leaving only 57,000 tons of total final waste for disposal, less than BT's figure of just under 60,000 tons.

In FY2007 NTT's total final waste was reduced to just 40,000 tons as the group achieved recycling rates of 99.5%, 93.2%, 91.4% and 52.1% respectively for communications equipment, construction works waste, civil engineering works waste and office waste.

Recycling is not something that only NTT is proving adept at. Japan's second largest carrier KDDI recycled over 97% of the 492.6 tons of business equipment made redundant in FY2006. The country's leading equipment makers have also implemented similar programs in the last few years.

But one of the litmus tests for the industry in Japan is the way it deals with the problem of redundant mobile phones that contain materials potentially more hazardous than dioxins if put in landfills or ordinary incinerators.

In 2001 under the auspices of the Communications and Information Network Association of Japan (CIAJ) and the Telecommunication Carriers Association (TCA) the operators set up the Mobile Recycle Network (MRN), which coordinates and promotes end-of-life handset collection. People can drop their unwanted handsets into recycling boxes in any shop operated by carriers regardless of whether they are subscribers.

NTT DoCoMo contracts with a copper smelter, which returns all the extracted metals to DoCoMo to sell on the market. Meanwhile, KDDI and SoftBank recycle their waste through a recycling company. SoftBank is continuing Vodafone Japan's UK-inspired practice of donating any proceeds from recycling to the World Wildlife Fund.

'I think that the MRN recycling process works extremely well, but there are still problems on the collection front,' noted Satoshi Nakazawa, VP of the CIAJ's products and technologies development department.

All of the component materials of collected mobile phones are recycled, but the latest figures show sharp falls since FY2001 when 13.6 million handsets were collected. Last year just 6.62 million handsets, 6.1 million batteries and 3.4 million chargers were recycled - all significant drops from the previous year.

handsets are being thrown out with the rubbish each year.

By means of annual questionnaires the MRN has analyzed the reasons and is coordinating countermeasures. It has found that sales of old handsets via Internet auctions account for most of the decline last year. But there are other reasons people are not disposing of their old handsets, such as the inability, technically or due to copyright issues, to transfer data and/or games. But the biggest problem is owner ignorance and a lack of incentives.

DoCoMo last month started cooperating with the am/pm Japan convenience store chain to place collection boxes in its stores.

While the MRN is a great model for Asian countries, it could perhaps learn from alternative approaches by companies like FoneBak in the UK that get big media coverage.

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