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Mobile phone ownership has soared since the mid-1990s to more than 83m in the UK – more than one handset for every individual, but we don’t yet know enough about the potential health implications of this technology. Whilst there is no firm evidence for a direct link between mobile phone use and health risks, experts tend to suggest we should remain cautious. This section will explore some of these health issues, and suggest the networks and handsets that are the most environmentally friendly.

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Erring on the side of caution

The independent Stewart Report, published in 2000, analysed the links between mobile phones and ill-health, and concluded that there was no proof that using mobile phones led to health problems. However, it maintained that ‘gaps in our knowledge are significant enough to justify a precautionary approach’.

The major potential health danger is that radiation emitted from the handset could lead to cancer. A Swedish report, found that incidents of ear tumours increased fourfold among people who used mobile phones just once a day for ten years, suggested that this theoretical risk may be a reality.

More worryingly still, it has been proven that the radiation from mobile phones can alter DNA and proteins. While these DNA changes have not been linked to any specific health problems, many scientists believe more research needs to be carried out, and this development strengthens the argument for caution.

What to do

Simple steps can reduce the potential risks. Try to avoid making calls when your phone has low signal and switch off the phone when it is not in use. It is also possible to choose a safer phone. Following the Stewart Report’s recommendations, all mobile phones should display a SAR (specific absorption rate) value, showing the amount of radiation emitted by the phone. The maximum legal rate in the UK is 2.0 w/kg, but in the US phones must have a SAR value of 1.6 or less. Find the lowest SAR value at

The most important advice is directed towards children, who are more susceptible to the possible effects of radiation because their skulls are not fully thickened, their nervous systems are still developing, and they will use a mobile phone for longer during their lifetime. The Stewart Report advises that young people only use mobiles for essential calls and discourages companies from marketing their phones directly to children.

Mast debate

Mobile phone masts have been the focus of much anxiety and campaigning, but in reality the health concerns associated with handsets are more serious than those linked to masts. In the UK, masts have been shown to emit radiation between seven hundred and ten million times below internationally agreed limits. Nevertheless, the Stewart Report recommends that they should be surrounded by an exclusion zone and located away from schools.


Many toxic chemicals go into mobile phones, making their disposal a potential health hazard. This often takes place in the developing world, where labour costs and environmental standards are lower. Greenpeace highlights the danger that some workers are exposed to when processing old mobile phones without proper equipment, and has persuaded some companies, including Sony and Nokia, to eliminate harmful chemicals including flame retardants and PVC plastic from their products.

If you are one of the 15 million people in the UK who are disposing of a mobile phone this year, you can help to alleviate the environmental strain by recycling your handset. Many supermarkets, charity shops and mobile phone retailers offer recycling services, often for a good cause.

Detailed Ethical Mobile Phones and UK Networks Comparison Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Giffgaff,O2, The People’s Operator, Virgin Mobile, Fairphone, Huawei, HTC, NEC, Vodafone, EE, Blackberry, Motorola, LG, Sony, Three, Microsoft / Nokia (Lumia), iPhone (Apple), Samsung.

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