Five ways we’re designing for a better environment

It’s been a little over a year since we announced our plan to respond to climate change – including a move to become carbon neutral in our operations from 2020, and our plans to enable renewable energy generation equivalent to 100% of our consumption by 2025 and reduce our absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Energy is only one part of our puzzle, though – there’s more that we can do with the products we design and manufacture.
Tom Penny · 27 May 2021 · 6 minute read

Each year, we use 1.4 million kilos worth of packaging to deliver our products to customers. As we move to being more sustainable and environmentally aware, this is an area where we can make significant impact with some small changes.

Today we’re announcing that by the end of 2022, all Telstra branded packaging will be made of renewable or recycled material and be fully recyclable.

One of the first products to be housed in these new materials is the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2, with Telstra pre-paid devices and Telstra 5G Home Internet following suit.

More efficient packaging for our products

As part of the redesign process, we needed to step right back to evaluate how we package our products. It’s no longer enough to follow the old norms on packaging – we needed to be more creative when working out how to use more sustainable packaging, while keeping our products safe during their journey to the customer.

Packaging for the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2 has been reduced from two sheets of paper across separate boxes to a single half-sheet, which folds in an origami-like way to protect the modem and safely store related cables and accessories.

We’ve also reduced the use of any plastic beyond the Smart Modem, its cables, the Wi-Fi password fridge magnet we include and the protective film – and we’ll no longer use inks or print finishes that could impact the ability to recycle the packaging afterwards.

Together, these changes are driving a 75% reduction in packaging materials for the Smart Modem Gen 2 – in fact we’re using approximately 258,000 less kilos of packaging across the 1.1 million Smart Modems we ship each year.

This material reduction has flow-on effects too – the fact that we’re using less paper also means our packaging weighs around half as much as before. As a result, our pallets can fit 33% more stock, further reducing our delivery footprint.

Using renewable and recycled materials in our branded packaging is only one half of the story – it’s important to us that all materials we use in our packaging can be recycled by customers afterwards. As part of our commitment, we’re also applying the Australasian Recycling Label to clearly identify how customers can recycle each packaging component.

Moving to plastic free distribution of consumer products

We’ve also begun work to reduce, then eliminate the use of the plastic courier satchels we use to deliver products to customers – we’re choosing to use recycled paper packaging instead. When you’re packaging and delivering products at the scale that we are, these small changes can add up to a big difference.

In the coming months, a new automation will enable the outer packaging used to transport consumer products to become more closely folded around the product, helping to minimise wasted material and push us one step closer to plastic-free distribution of consumer products.

A more sustainable future through the Telstra eCycle Program

These changes to packaging are just the start for us. We’re setting two more goals to help us become a more sustainable organisation.

Firstly, we’re aiming to recycle or reuse over 500,000 phones, modems and other devices such each year to 2025. Our second goal is to increase our network waste recycling rate to 85% by 2025.

Electronic waste (e-waste) is Australia’s fastest growing waste stream, with 66 per cent of Aussies stashing at least one piece of unwanted tech at home. In fact, our research1 revealed Australians are hoarding 61 million unwanted or unused technology items.

Between May and July this year we’re running a trial to provide all Australians – not just Telstra customers – with a service to ensure certain devices2 they no longer need are reused or recycled responsibly. We’re calling it the Telstra eCycle Program, and our ambition is to make it simple for Australians to conveniently recycle e-waste on an on-going basis.

The trial is an extension of our 22-year partnership with MobileMuster, Australia’s only voluntary, government-accredited mobile recycling scheme, and now sees us able to collect landline phones, modems, routers, tablets, Telstra TV streaming boxes, smart home technology, wearables, gaming devices and IoT devices as well as smartphones at participating Telstra stores across the country. You can find your nearest participating Telstra store.

Check out this short film from Western Sydney University student, Lachlan, as he explains the recycling journey. Lachlan’s video was a finalist in the 2020 MobileMuster film competition.

Turning landline phones into food with Australia Post and PonyUp for Good

Last year we partnered with social enterprise PonyUp for Good to collect and recycle Telstra rental phone handsets at Australia Post locations across the country.

During the eight-week program, PonyUp for Good collected and dismantled 6,791 handsets and 4,038 batteries and prepared them for recycling and retrieval of precious components including metals and plastics which will go back into making new products.

PonyUp for Good then donated 50% of the profits from the sale of these recycled and reused materials to SecondBite, Australia’s largest fresh food rescue charity, to provide meals for approximately 3,000 people in need.

Trade in your old phone for Telstra credit

If your old phone still works and is in decent condition, you can do your part for the environment and recycle it, while earning yourself some Telstra credit thanks to our partnership with our friends at Assurant.

Trade-in gives you credit on your Telstra bill in exchange for an out of contract device you’re no longer using. You can then use that credit to make purchasing a new device more affordable on a Telstra plan while also keeping your old phone in use and not in landfill.

Things you need to know

  1. Research conducted by YouGov in November 2020 with 1,010 Australian participants aged 18 and over.
  2. We are not accepting televisions, computers, printers or batteries through this program. Please contact your local council or visit Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You website to find out how you can recycle these technologies.


By Tom Penny

Head of Environment

Tom is Head of Environment at Telstra and leads the team responsible for delivering on Telstra’s Environment Strategy including helping Telstra understand and reduce its environmental impact through dedicated programs targeting climate change and resource efficiency, and its carbon neutral program. Tom has worked in sustainability teams across government, corporate and consulting both within Australia and in the UK and his experience extends across climate change, energy, resource efficiency and circular economy.

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