Students create giant flip phone to highlight e-waste crisis and prompt action amongst Gen Z

How can your university play its part?

A two-metre-high interactive flip phone, which is about to tour universities across the country, is one of several student-led initiatives being launched to raise awareness of electrical waste. E-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices, and includes anything with a plug, battery or cable. More needs to be done to keep electrical items in use as e-waste is the world’s fastest growing waste stream. When e-waste is buried in landfill or burnt, it releases toxic chemicals causing significant environmental damage.

A new report by environmental charity Hubbub and Virgin Media O2 reveals an urgent need to increase awareness of the value of the materials in our phones and support people to keep electrical devices in use. 

Young people aged 16-26 are the age group most likely to take actions to keep electronics in use. In the past two years, they are most likely to have gotten their phones repaired at a repair shop or café (46%), received a second-hand phone from a family-member or friend (44%) and bought a refurbished phone (45%).

The Time After Time E-waste report reveals the behaviours and attitudes of Gen Z around e-waste and involved polling 3,000 UK residents, running focus groups with 16-26 year-olds, and conducting a range of interviews with industry experts. 

The data shows young people are interested and willing to adopt positive behaviours such as repairing or selling on their phone, and this is largely motivated by being financially savvy rather than being led by environmental motivation alone. This suggests even more young people would take positive action if there was greater awareness of the financial benefits, or if repairing and buying second-hand were even cheaper options.

The giant phone installation was developed by students at Manchester Metropolitan University as part of a series of “Time After Time” hackathons run by Hubbub. Several other universities were asked to come up with creative ideas on how to shine a light on the problem of e-waste, including University of Dundee, University of Swansea, UCL, University of Warwick and Plymouth University.

A number of other student-focused projects have recently received grants from the Time After Time campaign – a £500,000 fund established by Virgin Media O2 and Hubbub – to support students to extend the life of their small electrical items (like smartphones, laptops, kitchen appliances and DIY equipment) and recycle them when they’re broken beyond repair.

These projects include:

  • The Wheel-e-waste bike in Manchester: During August and September, Hubbub offered students in Manchester the opportunity to get their small electrical items collected directly from their homes for recycling via an Instagram message thanks to the new Wheel-e-waste bike, an electric powered cargo bike.
  • The Community Repair Network and The Restart Project areworking with universities across the UK including at Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Brunel, Lancaster, Sheffield, Bath and SOAS amongst others, and pre-existing groups at Bangor and UAL which have paved the way for introducing repair eventson their campuses. From tailored workshops and repair cafés to sessions that collaborate with the local community, this upcoming academic year will see all sorts ofnew repair initiatives in universities.  
  • Community charity Groundwork East is working with four universities across the East of England (Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Suffolk and Essex) to encourage students to reuse and repair small items and appliances and providing local information about how to recycle or dispose of electrical items responsibly. During September, they attended freshers’ fairs and engaged with students on the topical issue of disposable vapes.

Gavin Ellis, Co-Founder of Hubbub said “With 5.3 billion mobile phones expected to be discarded this year globally and over a third of young people admitting to previously disposing of their phone in the bin, we urgently need to get a grip on the vast amounts of electrical items that are being disposed of incorrectly and ending up in landfill. 

“Our research suggests 66% of young people are unaware that smartphones contain precious metals. They also replace their phones more often than any other generation. They’re savvy and clearly eager to do the right thing, but it’s evident they need much more support to do this because they currently receive very little information on the subject in a way that makes sense to them. Universities and the students within them can play a key role in communicating these messages and helping shift behaviour and we’ve seen this through our Time After Time campaign with Virgin Media O2 so far.”

Get involved

  • Students interested in finding out what they can do to address e-waste at their university can get a free resource pack by emailing Hubbub at
  • MMU’s flip phone – available for hosting

The interactive phone’s keyboard features a series of flippable and spinning keys that reveal facts or helpful info about the topic of e-waste. Plus it has a mirror screen for students to take selfies. It was made using reclaimed materials and a 3D printed Zero Waste Plastic to avoid waste during production.

The flip phone will be on display at MMU Student Union from 2to 6 October before travelling to Aviva Studios on 21 October for a Repair Day event, UCL Student Union from 23 to 27 October and MMU Business School from 13 to 24 November.

Universities and Student Unions interested in hosting the installation should email

  • Universities, Students Unions, students, lecturers and course conveners who are interested in running a hackathon around any environmental issue are encouraged to email
  • If you’re interested in starting up your own university repair project with the Community Repair Network, you can email
  • For more information visit