Wireless Watch: Corn-based cell phone helps Sprint go green

Struggling Sprint Nextel (S) is trying to boost its tarnished name with a new, environmentally friendly phone: the Samsung Reclaim. The phone, which is constructed from eco-friendly plastics, will become available on August 16.

The Reclaim is an environmentalist's dream. According to Fierce Mobile Content, it is free of polyvinyl chloride phthalates and contains no flame retardants. Most if it is made from corn-based bio-plastics; once you decide to ditch it, 80 percent of its parts are recyclable. That is critical since, according to a report by CNet, the Natural Resources Defense Council says that more than 100 million cell phones are tossed every year in the United States, potentially leaking mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other substances into water streams.

Even the packaging and phone tray are made from 70 percent recycled materials and the box's images, text and warranty information are all printed with soy-based ink. No paper manual either – you have to go online to read it.

Besides being good for the environment, it's also a good phone, offering access to social network sites such a MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It comes with a full Qwerty keypad, works on third-generation high-speed networks and comes with a GPS receiver. The AC adapter beeps to remind you to unplug it once the battery is charged and the phone, which also comes with Bluetooth and a Web browser, sports a 2-megapixel camera with 3X digital zoom.

If all this fails to lure over some new customers, the price may help. The slider phone costs $50, after a $50 rebate, as long as you sign a two-year plan.

Sprint's green initiative is not a one shot deal. The company plans to work with device and accessory suppliers to reduce the use of hazardous materials, to make its products more energy efficient and recyclable. In its offices, the company plans to cut paper usage by 30 percent over the next five years and in its stores, it will set up a green corner, showcasing its eco-friendly products.

Sprint's not alone. All the major wireless operators have had recycling programs for years. Verizon (VZ) allows people to donate their old phones to charities such as one for domestic abuse and AT&T (T)offers refurbished phones to soldiers in the military. T-Mobile also offers a phone – the Motorola W233 Renew handset which is made from recycled water bottles.

But Sprint plans to head up the effort and says that by 2017, 90 percent of its devices will be recycled or reclaimed – up from 35 percent today. It intends to spend $4.3 billion over the next four years on environmental management to ensure that its business practices and products don't hurt the earth. All good.

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