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'Mobile Man': Nokia green envoy made of old phones

As part of a global recycling campaign, a humanoid-robot-looking creature is showing up at random Beijing post offices to inspire people to turn in their old handsets.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
2 min read
Nokia robot
Mobile Man, who's made of old phones from head to toe, takes a reading break at a Beijing post office. Ji Lu/ChinaFotoPress

I really want to believe this Nokia robot made of used cell phones is just out to promote green living. But what if it's sitting there quietly on the bench reading Go Green magazine just to throw us off? Nokia couldn't let it read "Robopocalypse" in public or we'd be on to its true intent.

OK, maybe I've just been listening to too many Eric and Donald podcasts.

For now, I'm going to take Nokia at its word that it built the aptly named "Mobile Man" to promote cell phone recycling in Asia as part of its global push to get consumers to reuse and recycle old handsets rather than toss them in a drawer, or--worse yet--the trash.

In collaboration with the postal service in Beijing, the Finnish mobile giant is giving free movie tickets to those who turn in old phones at more than 40 Beijing post offices.

All they have to do is put their handset in a designated envelope and they'll also get a receipt that lets them stay updated on the status of their phone as it gets dismantled and recycled. Cell phone materials that can be recovered and reused include plastic, nickel, copper, iron, and aluminum.

During the green push in Beijing, Mobile Man, who's fashioned from more than a thousand mobile phones and accessories, will randomly appear at city postal branches to promote green gadget habits and show off its polymer pecs.

Related links
Getting rid of your old cell phone
On Call: Best carriers for recycling your phone
Nokia kiosks collect phones for recycling

Made in Singapore, Mobile Man is a nonmotorized creature standing about 6 feet tall and weighing some 44 pounds. It looks like a robot, but it technically really isn't one as it can't do much autonomously save for sit around reading about bursting landfills and making people feel guilty about not being green.

Three Mobile Men currently exist, but only one has been hired to work the Beijing post office circuit. We're not sure where the other two are, but we'd be happy to see them in a post office near us as long as they don't start guilting us out about not calling our mothers enough too.

While e-waste is a concern across the range of gadgets, the constant stream of new phone models, coupled with consumers' desire for the hottest new gear, means the shelf life of cell phones can last only months.

Nokia, for its part, has taken other steps to encourage cell phone recycling, including installing automated, touch-screen kiosks across the central Klang Valley of Malaysia that make it easy to drop off old phones.

child checks out Mobile Man
A boy in China checks out Mobile Man's unusual knee joint. Nokia