MWC protest asks about the fate of 4 million recalled Note7 batteries

Greenpeace's rallying cry: Rethink, reuse, recycle

Greenpeace Mobile World Congress protest Samsung Note7
Credit: Greenpeace

The question of how the electronics industry recycles or disposes of old batteries came up again due to a Greenpeace protest of Samsung at Mobile World Congress this week.

Greenpeace protestors appeared at a Samsung press event in Barcelona on Sunday carrying and erecting banners outside the venue; the group urged reuse and recycling of old batteries.

Greenpeace said in a statement that it was demanding Samsung reuse and recycle the 4.3 million Galaxy Note7 batteries that were recalled last year after reports that some of the lithium ion batteries overheated and caught fire.

Greenpeace protesters briefly unfurled one large black banner about 40 feet long and 40 feet wide on the multi-story building where Samsung held its event. But the banner was quickly removed by building security, according to attendees.

Inside, one Greenpeace protester briefly took the stage while David Lowes, Samsung's senior vice president for marketing, was speaking. Hundreds of reporters who were ushered into an overflow hall with a live video feed of the stage event didn't see the protestor.

The protestor onstage silently held a large yellow sign with the words, "rethink, reuse, recycle," arranged in a triangle. Inside the triangle, were the words, "Samsung/it's simple/#GalaxyNote7." The protestor left the stage after Lowes remarked, "I think you've made your point." A few reporters caught the brief event on Twitter.

Samsung didn't specifically mention its plans for the recalled Note7 batteries during or just after the event. Lowes did, however, allude to the Note7 and its recall and described new battery testing and an improved safety review process.

"The past six months has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging periods in our history," Lowes said onstage.

Samsung said in a statement emailed late Friday that it will be responsible with how it disposes of the Note7 devices and their batteries.

"We have prioritized a safe and environmentally friendly process for disposing of devices," the statement said. "We are committed to working closely with regulatory bodies, as well as carrier partners, to ensure a responsible disposal plan for our devices."

Greenpeace's statement included photos and video of its protest. It called attention to the enormous amount of energy used to make smartphones since 2007 and the significant contribution batteries make to electronic waste.

"What has happened with Samsung's recall of the Galaxy Note7 is indicative of a wasteful and unsustainable system. Rushed design and production cycles can lead to wasteful mistakes, not to mention the impact on our planet," Jude Lee, global senior campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, said in the statement.

"Samsung still hasn't shared a clear plan to deal with the 4.3 million [Note7] phones that it recalled," Lee added. "If Samsung is serious about making sure this never happens again, it must lead the IT sector and move towards a system that allows phones to be more easily repaired, reused and recycled."

Greenpeace USA recently issued a report on Sunday about the global impact of a decade of smartphones since the first iPhone of 2007. It says 7 billion phones have been produced over that period and that too few are upgradeable and simple get thrown away.

"Consumers are pushed to upgrade their models so frequently that the average device is used for just over two years," said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. "The impacts on the planet are devastating."

Greenpeace cited a 2014 United Nations University study that found less than 16% of global electronic waste is believed to be recycled.

Greenpeace claimed in its report that the energy used to make smartphones globally since 2007 was 968 terawatt hours, about the same amount as all the energy used in India in 2014.

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