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Status 2022




Produced, bought, used – and then thrown away. That’s how most of the products we use pass through our lives. Not surprisingly, the start-to-finish economy that has them do this is often referred to as a “linear economy.” It’s an economy that produces mountains of waste. According to statistics of the World Bank, the world produces 2.01 billion metric tons of waste every year. By 2050, waste production is predicted to reach 3.40 billion metric tons per year – if we don’t somehow change course.

Circular economy


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Going round and round

The way to change course is to turn the line into a circle – meaning the “linear economy” has to become a “circular economy.” In a circular economy, products are designed and manufactured with a view to recyclability. The materials they contain can easily be separated from one another for recycling purposes. And products are used as long as possible. They are shared, repaired, refurbished, and reused. When they can no longer be used, they are recycled, and the raw materials they contain are recovered for use in new products. That way, they never land in landfills.

Design & Production

Circular economies are good for the environment. They help to conserve valuable resources. And they produce less waste, including plastic waste that pollutes oceans, and landfills that might pollute soils. Circular economies are also good for the climate. That is because they eliminate large portions of the carbon footprints that are tied to production of products, including products such as cell phones, clothing, and food. When smaller quantities of new products are produced, production-related carbon emissions decrease.

A circular economy could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by a full 39 percent.*
According to the “Circle Economy” organization’s “Circularity Gap Report 2021,”
According to the “Circle Economy” organization’s “Circularity Gap Report 2021,” a circular economy could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by a full 39 percent.

Circular economies benefit us in even more ways, however. They reduce our dependence on supplies and deliveries of raw materials. Many supply-chain shortages could be avoided if we simply started using all of the valuable raw materials we now throw away. And there’s more: When we reduce our waste production, we save money.

At Deutsche Telekom, we operate responsibly. By 2030, we want to have a circular economy in place in Europe for our consumer devices and network equipment – and for our suppliers’ products

Melanie Kubin-Hardewig,  Vice President for Group Sustainability Management

At Deutsche Telekom, we are aiming to establish a functioning circular economy in which products and materials are used as long as possible and then recycled. By 2030, we want to have a comprehensive recycling system in place in Europe for our network equipment and for the devices we sell to our customers. And by 2025, virtually all of the mobile devices we sell will come in sustainable packaging. Already, we use sustainable packaging for all of our own new products that we sell, throughout Europe.

  • Design & Production

    Already during the development of products, care must be taken to ensure that they are durable and easy to repair. Wherever possible, renewable materials should be used. All materials should also be installed in such a way that they can be easily recycled later.

    The data center in Biere near Magdeburg was planned in such a way that it can be completely rebuilt and the materials reused.

  • Sustainable use

    We should handle products in such a way that they last as long as possible, because the longer we use them, the less they have to be produced anew. Our smartphone, for example, lasts much longer with a protective cover. And we can extend the life of the battery if we don't constantly charge it, but keep it between 40 and 80 percent charged. You can find the battery status in the battery settings of your smartphone.

    The cell phone cases from our partner agood from Sweden are made of purely plant-based materials. And if you don't need the cover anymore, send it back to agood. agood turns the old cover into raw materials for a new one.

  • Recondition

    In remanufacturing, experts ensure that your product is repaired and restored to good condition so that it can be resold.

    Old cell phones can also be sold to Telekom in Germany. These devices are checked, repaired if possible and renewed devices are resold at an attractive price. Of course, we ensure that all data on the phones are deleted.

  • Another life, please. And another. And...

    The camera works, but you hardly use it? You don't like the winter jacket from last year anymore? Since the internet has connected us all into one huge flea market, platforms like vinted, ebay or are booming - no matter where in the world, your used pieces will find new happy buyers.

    Many things do not have to be purchased, but can also be rented. In some countries, for example, you can rent a router or media receiver from Telekom. If it is returned, we ensure that it is refurbished and returned to the cycle.

  • Repair

    If products break, you don't have to buy a new one right away. Many things can be repaired. This is more environmentally friendly than buying a new product and is easier on the wallet. Your repair order also helps to maintain jobs in your region.

    Display broken? Battery in the bucket? No problem if you have a Fairphone - because you can easily replace many parts yourself, without having to have the entire device repaired at great expense or even having to dispose of it. That saves valuable resources.

  • Why buy a drill when you just want holes?

    In the circular economy, ownership is becoming a dis­con­tin­ued model, at least for things that are easy to share. On average, we use a drill for only twelve to fifteen minutes in its product life. Thanks to the Internet, we can borrow drills, ladders and the like from our neighbors via or similar platforms. This is particularly good for the environ­ment, because every drill that is not built saves resources.

    We use a drill for just 12-15 minutes on average in its product life.

  • At the end it goes to recycling

    Unfortunately, even the best-cared-for product will break down at some point. Then we should give it for recycling so that the raw materials it contains can be reused.

    The housing of the Speedport Smart consists of at least 90 percent recycled plastic. The packaging is not only completely plastic-free and compostable, but also uses 30 percent less cardboard material.

Recycling from A to Z

The first waste-neutral smartphone

The Fairphone 4 is the first waste-neutral smartphone with respect to electrical and electronic waste. In the interest of reducing consumption of valuable resources, we recycle one used smartphone for every Fairphone we sell. What is more, the Fairphone 4 is currently the only smartphone to have been awarded the German "Blue Angel" ("Blauer Engel") label for environ­mentally friendly products. The phone has a modular design that is resource-efficient and reduces emissions. Currently, we are offering the Fairphone 4 in Germany and Austria.


Making smartphone purchases more sustainable

Renting instead of buying

In many cases, we can use things without also owning them. Many things are available on a rental basis. This applies to Deutsche Telekom's routers and media receivers in Germany, for example. When rental devices are returned, we refurbish them and then offer them to other customers. In this way, we reduce electronic waste and avoid the environmental costs associated with production of new devices.

Packaging: Less is indeed more

According to calculations of the Federal Statistical Office, per-capita production of packaging waste reached 78 kilograms in 2020. That is about how much a heavy washing machine weighs! And it’s way too much, as far as we are concerned. Packaging is important, of course, because products have to be protected against damage. But outer packages are usually much too large. And they are often made of plastic that breaks down incompletely and winds up as microplastic in the environment and in our bodies.

Since mid-2022, all of our own new products, throughout Europe, are being sold in sustainable packaging. And nearly 90 percent of the smartphones we source from suppliers have sustainable packaging. Our packaging guideline defines clear criteria for packaging, including use of recyclable and biodegradable materials; use of recycled waste paper wherever possible; and use of only non-toxic labels and printing (for example, soy-based inks). In addition, we use absolutely no single-use plastic. We are working closely with our suppliers toward the goal of ensuring that – by the end of 2024 – over 90 percent of the mobile devices we sell in Europe are sustainably packaged.

No plastic? Fantastic!

At least 70 percent of the packaging for the Speedphone and Sinus series telephones consists of recycled paper. The total quantity of packaging for the phones has been reduced, and the quick-start user guides for them are printed on 100 percent recycled paper (needless to say, the complete, long versions of the guides are available online, at Also, the phones’ packaging does not include protective covers made out of plastic. This saves us an estimated 800 kilograms of plastic per year.

New ways to combat plastic waste in the oceans

Researchers forecast that there will be more pieces of plastic in our oceans than fish by the year 2050. Over time, the plastic disintegrates into tiny micro particles that end up in our bodies through food. Munich-based IT entre­pre­neur and enthusiastic sailor Günther Bonin gave up his old life and founded the organization One Earth – One Ocean. His goal: Maritime waste collection that picks up plastic from the ocean. His vision: To turn plastic into fuel for ships in the medium term.

Video: Interview with Günther Bonin

Technology in a
made-to-measure suit

Our packaging machines in Steinfurt produce custom-tailored packaging for the equipment used by our technicians and field service staff. Rather than fixed-size standard boxes, fanfold corrugated is used to produce boxes to specific dimensions in around ten seconds. Cutting-edge technology calcu­lates the perfect size in the blink of an eye and thus saves tons of paper. However, it doesn’t matter how well a box fits, there will always be empty space that needs to be filled to protect the contents. The waste cardboard generated when the boxes are cut to size is therefore shredded and used as filling material. This not only saves space in the paper waste bins, but also conserves paper resources – around 50 to 70 metric tons a year. Every metric ton of paper not used also saves as much as 50 000 liters of water, 10 000 kWh of energy, and one metric ton of CO₂.

Stop hiding those old phones away!

According to a study of Bitkom, the German business association for the digital sector, over 200 million unused cell phones are hidden away in German households. And many of the devices are still in good condition and could con­tin­ue to be used. On our cell-phone buy­back site, users can see how much such cell phones are still worth. We purchase such devices, check them thoroughly for defects, delete any data they may still contain, and completely refurbish them. On our “ReUse MyMobile” site, users can buy so-refur­bished devices at attractive prices. In other words, that ageing cell phone in that drawer can get a new lease on life.

Raw materials in cell phones: Lots of little bits count

Is your cell phone just too old? Is it irreparably broken? While such devices can no longer be used, they contain useful raw materials that can be recovered. Cell phones contain about 60 different materials, including ceramics, glass, plastics, and valuable metals. Obviously, a single phone will not contain a large amount of re­cy­clable metals, but many little quan­tities can add up. When lots of people start recycling their used phones, phone recycling can yield significant quantities of metals – metals that would otherwise have to be mined.

An overview: These are the raw materials that smartphones and tablet computers contain

Standard recycling processes can recover metals such as gold, copper, palladium, platinum, silver and – in many cases – nickel from electronic devices. This is good news, because these metals account for over 85 percent of the entire metal value found in electronic devices. In addition, special recycling plants are able to recover additional metals, such as zinc, lead, tin and traces of other metals. There are currently three such plants in operation in Europe. Smartphones and tablets also contain the metals indium and tantalum and “rare earth” elements. At present, recycling of these materials is not yet feasible, because the quantities involved per device are too small, and because the materials are too widely distributed throughout devices. Cobalt and nickel can be recovered from lithium-ion batteries, and much research is currently being carried out for the purpose of improving the relevant recycling processes.

Back casing

The back casing of the phone consists of particularly robust plastics.


Besides graphite, plastics and silicon, the battery also contains various lithium compounds as well as stannic oxide, nickel, manganese, cobalt and further raw materials.

Battery casing

The casing itself is made from plastics, the battery contacts and the charging plug that is also found here consist of precious metal alloys.


Inside the plastic connectors there are electrical contcats containing precious metals like gold, silver and platine.

Circuit board

The circuit board contains precious silver, zinc, gold, platine, lead and tin, as well as copper, glass and ceramics, but also plastic materials like PPS, epoxy resin and ABS-PC.

Contact plate

The plate is mostly made from plastics; it has metal contacts on the backside that close a circuit on the board when a key is pressed.

Insulating plate

This plate consists of plastics and shields the electronic parts behind it.


The screws are made from iron and often have an additional zinc coating.


Aside from the formative plastics, the speaker also contains copper. Additionally, there is a permanent magnet made from ferrite or an alloy of aluminium, nickel and cobalt.


The phone's display is made from plastics and a plethora of precious metals.


The keyboard is made out of plastics.

Front cover

The front cover consists of particularly robust plastics.

swipe icon

Secure recycling prevents data theft

The “Good Cause Initiative”: Support a good cause simply by returning your device

In 2022, we launched the “Good Cause Initiative” in Europe. For every device that our customers and employees return, we donate money to a good cause. In Greece, for example: There, our OTE national company is sup­port­ing ENALEIA, an organization that collects and removes waste – including plastic waste – from the waters and beaches of the Greek islands Corfu, Cephalonia, Skiathos and Crete.

Resources from the bottom of the lake

On “World Cleanup Day” in September 2022, divers plunged into Poland’s Durowskie lake and proceeded to collect about one metric ton of waste – including cell phones – from the bottom of the lake. While this was going on, about 1 000 residents of the nearby town of Wągrowiec picked up trash from the shores of the lake, as volunteers. Also, our T-Mobile Polska national company set up a container into which participants could toss in their old cell phones and get a plant in return. In another campaign in Poland, T-Mobile Polska called on schools and kindergartens throughout the country to collect unused cell phones. Those schools and kindergartens that collected the most devices by the end of 2022 received prizes such as interactive language labs, games kits, and vouchers.

Construction materials from electronic waste

Electric waste certainly doesn’t have to wind up in landfills. In Slovakia, our Slovak Telekom national company is applying this insight in cooperating with a recycling company that makes construction materials from plastics gleaned from elec­tronic waste and scrap. At the beginning of the process, used electronic devices are dis­assembled by trained staff. Then, the metals and plastics in the devices are separated. Materials such as copper, iron, alu­minum, precious metals, and recyclable plastics are forwarded to special­ized processing companies that use them wherever possible to make new products. The remaining mix of plastics is ground up and then used in the construction industry, to make new construction materials.

Can you recycle an entire data center?

The short answer is yes! By virtue of its design, our Biere data center can be fully disassembled – in theory, at least. And most of the equipment within it – from servers to generators – could be used elsewhere after the end of its useful life within the center. Equipment that could not be used would be properly recycled, in an environmentally compatible manner, by its manufacturers or by specialized recycling companies. We've undertaken this process with several older data centers over the past few years. By the way, we began applying circular-economy principles to our Biere data center as soon as we began building it. All of the supporting materials needed for the construction process – especially including the wood used for formwork – were properly separated, and temporarily stored, at the construction site, and then fed back into the relevant production processes.

1 313

metric tons – that’s how much copper cable we pulled out of the ground in Germany alone in 2022. Before there was any such thing as fiber-optic cables, telephone lines consisted mostly of copper cables. As part of our fiber-optic build-out, we are replacing them. Certified waste disposal facilities process the cables in accordance with environmental standards, and up to 90 percent of the material is then recycled.

Green pioneers

Over 340 of our employees, from a total of about 70 different locations, served as our “Green Pioneers” in Germany, by developing ideas for ways to improve sustainability at Deutsche Telekom – including ideas relating to circular economies. And their ideas led to improvements such as the introduction of “Recup” returnable cups in our cafeterias, and the develop­ment of our state-of-the-art packaging machines, which produce almost no waste. In our national companies, e.g. in Austria, Spain, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Mexico, our employees have formed similar networks.

A clothes call

Our Green Pioneers also came up with the idea of setting up textile-collection points at our locations in North Rhine-Westphalia. The cotton textiles they collect, including work clothes and other cotton textiles, are upcycled, meaning they are recycled and, in combination with new textiles, used in making new items of clothing. As a result, the collection points save countless liters of water, because they reduce demand for cotton that has to be grown. As an added touch, the collection points are equipped with fill-level sensors that, via the Internet of Things (IoT), report when the collection points are full and need to be emptied. This prevents unnecessary trips, thereby reducing carbon emissions and fuel consumption.

And a lot more is possible.

The circular economy is a great idea for saving valuable resources. But do you know what is even better? Not using the resources in the first place! How do we do that? For example, by no longer print­ing out and mailing our telephone bills by default; now, we make them available online. By 2025, we intend to eliminate paper from our offices to the fullest extent possible. Along with online billing, the best strategies for doing this include communicating online with our customers.

Cloud computing is yet another good way of saving resources. With cloud computing, our customers no longer need servers and storage media of their own. And cloud computing with us is more efficient, in terms of resources and energy consumption, than companies’ own non-cloud infra­structures. This is because capacity utilization at our data centers is highly efficient, reducing energy consumption by up to 80 percent – and also reducing hardware requirements

SDG12: Conserving Resources SDG12: Conserving Resources