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February 9, 2009

Mobile recycling – is this the answer?

LONDON, England – I’ve been struggling with the issue of getting people to responsibly recycle their old mobile phones for some time now. Plenty of initiatives have come around, and Nokia has continually tried to push the matter at every opportunity. Over the weekend though, I stumbled upon something I didn’t expect to see. Noel’s HQ is a primetime TV show in the UK, aimed at helping connect people, both famous and not so famous, with charities that need their help. One of its latest is to help support Support Dogs, an organisation which trains dogs to help support disabled people.

Noel’s help comes in the form of the Give A Dog a Phone appeal – a nationwide call to have people send their phones to Noel’s HQ so they can be sold on for recycling or reuse, with the proceeds going straight to the Support Dogs charity.

There’s little new here in terms of initiative, but it’s the execution that’s got me thinking. It combines three key elements which I reckon make a big difference. It’s also not the first time that phone recycling, dogs and helping people have come together. also have a scheme aimed at using phone recycling to fund a charitable organisation. In fact it’s website promises that one phone will be enough to feed a dog for five days (not that the dog eats the phone, more that the money raised will fund the cost of the food). Even though the two schemes are similar, the Noel’s HQ one screams success for three simple reasons.

  1. Simplicity – Sending in old phones is as easy as writing Freepost, Noel’s HQ on a sealed padded envelope (viewers can also hand them into any Orange mobile phone store in the UK).
  2. Prominence – This is prime time TV, with an audience primed to help and respond to special causes – dogs to help the disabled is a very deserving cause and one that will naturally pique people’s interest.
  3. Authority – With a household name such as Noel Edmonds lending kudos to the campaign, and a serious charity benefiting, people will find it easy to have confidence, and understanding in giving away their old phones to help others.

So, is this the answer? In itself, I don’t think so. But for me at least, it’s starting to build a clearer picture of what’s required to get people to move their phones out of their cupboards and get them recycled. Simplicity is at the heart of any scheme, if it’s anything other than dead easy, people won’t get involved. Prominence and promotion are important too, but not as much as authority. This last one gives people the confidence they need.

I said a while back that people (myself as an example) have a fundamental difficulty in recycling what is, or at least was, a high value item such as a phone (or any piece of consumer electronics). Having an independent authority lending credence to a campaign has to help.

This campaign isn’t on its own going to get the whole country recycling their mobiles. But it will get some of them. Which brings me to another conclusion. There is no one single solution to solve this particular problem. What’s needed are some base points, and then specialist campaigns to drive them home. Simplicity, prominence and authority form the basic principles, now we need to unearth the myriad schemes that’ll help drive the message home.

At least, that’s what I reckon, what do you think?