Introducing the world’s first SIM made of 100% recycled plastic from old refrigerators

Last updated: 09 November 2021

In this blog, I am joined by my colleague Christelle Toureille, VP Telecom SIM cards here at Thales, to discuss the latest innovation in removable SIM cards.

Sébastien Violette (SV): Before delving into the specifics of our new Eco SIM it is important to understand why we felt there was a need to make SIM cards more eco-friendly. As a global enterprise, we are acutely aware of our role in providing our markets with products that are more sustainable and waste less of the earth’s precious resources – particularly when it comes to plastic. With at least eight million tons of plastic ending up in our oceans every year, we are more aware than ever before just how much of a role humans are playing in damaging fragile ecosystems with man-made products that take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Christelle Toureille (CT): That’s exactly right, for example, although SIM cards weigh only around 4 grams each, with approximately 4.5 billion SIM cards manufactured each year (ABI Research – Sept. 2020), we estimate they contribute to about 20,000 tons of PVC and other polymers, being created annually. Shockingly, this is the equivalent of two Eiffel Towers worth of plastic amassing each year just from SIM cards creation alone.

With this in mind, we asked ourselves how we could reduce the carbon footprint of our own SIM card production. To make this vision a reality, we decided to approach Veolia (a leader in waste treatment), and together, we tried to find a more environmentally friendly process for making SIM cards that would still be as reliable and secure as the current market offering.

Using recycled material

(SV): When looking to develop a product using recycled materials there are two key routes a business can take: pre-consumer and post-consumer. Pre-consumer recycled material refers to the recycling of industrial waste that never made it into consumers hands, such as scraps, discards, and trimmings. The problem with using pre-consumer materials is that sometimes it’s not truly regarded as recycled material as instead it involves finding a purpose for manufacturing scrap.

Post-consumer recycled material on the other hand refers to the waste that’s been used and disposed of by a consumer. This form of recycling is considered to have more sustainable benefit as if the materials were not recycled, they would instead end up in landfill.

(CT): For our new Eco SIM we decided to choose post-consumer materials – turning polystyrene waste from broken refrigerators into pellets, which are then used to manufacture the SIM card body. It took us three years of co-development to fine-tune the right ‘formula’ but now, with this process in place, there is no need to produce ‘new’ PVC/polymer.

In addition, to the SIM card body itself now being made from 100% recycled materials, we’re also committed to offsetting the carbon footprint of other non-recyclable components of the eco SIM (such as the electronic components) to achieve a carbon neutral footprint. Therefore, when purchasing the Eco SIM, mobile operators and consumers also contribute towards renewable energy and reforestation projects, certified by Natural Capital Partners. To top it off we’ve also included eco-friendly SIM packaging.

“Thales Eco SIM is the world’s first SIM card, made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic from old fridges”

The importance of environmental innovation

(SV): There is a real ecological awareness in our societies today, both at the level of citizens and companies. With March being the month where both Global Recycling Day and Earth Hour take place, this month is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of recycling and other environmentally friendly initiatives and the impact they can have on driving towards a more sustainable society.

(CT): Indeed, this innovation targets those mobile operators looking for real sustainable strategies and are willing to reduce the impact of their SIM card activity. As part of their sustainable strategies, eco SIM lets mobile operators reduce the environmental impact of their SIM card activity, while improving brand awareness in front of the end customer. It has been great to see mobile operators really supporting this drive to go greener and understanding how the eco SIM can help mobile operators with their ESG goals (Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance).

Interestingly the mobile industry has been the world’s first industry to endorse the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (read our infographic).

Let’s take the case of Orange in Belgium – the first telecom operator in the world to introduce the new Thales’ eco SIM in Q4 of 2020. Since 2006, Orange Belgium has deployed an ambitious Corporate Social Responsibility strategy to reduce its environmental impact, which saw for instance an overall reduction of CO2 emissions by almost 80%.

Their CEO, Xavier Pichon, told us that “As a responsible telecom operator, the company strongly believes in a relevant usage of technology to address societal challenges. By introducing this new generation of SIM cards, Orange Belgium is at the forefront, worldwide, of the fight towards more sustainable business practices. It allows us to further reduce our environmental footprint, next to other major efforts we’re making into reducing our energy consumption, our CO2 emissions and our waste production.”

Thales is now set to supply Vodafone Group with eco-designed SIM cards. The Eco-SIM will be initially deployed in ten countries across Europe and Africa, with millions of subscribers worldwide set to benefit from eco-responsible innovation.

As a mobile operator, what’s your view here? Let us know your thoughts and feedback by tweeting to us at @ThalesDigiSec or leaving a comment below.

You can also read our other related resources on Eco SIM here and eco-friendly SIM packaging here:

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