What is the environmental impact of smartphones?

Ever stopped to think about how your smartphone is made? An item you use every day and it’s more than likely you don’t have a clue. You might be surprised at what goes into making something that you see as an everyday part of life.

The environmental damage of smartphones

Raw Materials

The journey starts in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (or somewhere similar), where workers are exploited and paid a bare minimum (if they’re lucky), to extract the mineral ores and metal needed to produce smartphones. Aside from human exploitation, this also causes incredible amounts of toxic waste and ecological damage to the area where mining takes place.

Production

Step 2 is production. Smartphones require huge amounts of energy to produce. They may be energy efficient when you’re using them but the energy consumed when making them is pretty astounding. In fact, a recent Greenpeace report stated that the amount of power used to produce smartphones since their release is roughly the same amount of power used in India in a year – a country which is home to around a fifth of the world’s population!

Transport

Then, of course, there’s the transport cost of getting all those lovely new mobile phones into the stores ready for you to buy. Apple, for example, manufactures most of their products in China. This then requires a huge logistical effort to get them all into stores for launch day. It involves several plane loads full of iPhones jetting off to the many countries where they are in demand, followed by further road transport once they are there. In short, we’re talking about a significant carbon footprint – and that’s just an example from one company…

Waste

Arguably the biggest problem is waste. Smartphones have the shortest shelf life of any technology and then they get dumped. It’s not even that they no longer work or are of no use (smashed screens aside); we’re bored of them, or the battery is rubbish, or simply that we are conditioned to want to buy the newer shinier version. The things we’ll do for a couple of new gimmicks or a better camera, or whatever the smartphone companies have invented to spark our interest.

How refurbished smartphones save the planet

What can we do?

There is a solution out there, although it may not be what you want to hear. The answer is we become a little less eager for the latest thing, hold on to our phones for a little longer and consume less vigorously. Our phones all do the same job at the end of the day, don’t they?

As the world is starting to turn to slower consumption, slow fashion, shopping and eating local, reducing our use of single-use plastic and saving the turtles, isn’t it time we looked at our mobile phone habit too?

Waste

The most obvious saving is that smartphones that are recycled and refurbished don’t go to landfills. They aren’t sat there for hundreds of years slowly decomposing, leaking their toxic waste into the planet and taking up huge amounts of space. They might be small as an individual item, but collectively they have a huge impact.

Production

There are also great savings to be made on production costs with refurbished smartphones as only the necessary parts are replaced. This can be done by using working parts from other abandoned smartphones. Brand new parts are therefore only manufactured when absolutely necessary.

Raw Materials

Generally, it’s the cosmetic exterior of the phone that is discarded, while the motherboard, battery and microphones etc. are kept. These are the parts that cost the most in terms of energy and raw materials to produce so it’s definitely a win for the environment.

All of those precious mined metals we talked about earlier can be saved too. They are either kept in the smartphone or can be extracted to be re-used for other things. Another win for the environment.

Transport

With refurbished phones there’s no mass logistics to deal with, they are often refurbished at a local level or sold individually online, no group plane charters or lorries just for phones are needed and while they’ll still need to get to their destination, they’re unlikely to make quite so long journeys.

Money

Whilst it isn’t an environmental concern it’s definitely worth mentioning. Refurbished smartphones will save you money. Not only will you get that rosy feeling that you’re doing the environment a good turn, but by buying a refurbished phone you’ll also be doing your wallet a heap of good too.

If you have a phone lying around that you’re no longer using – let’s face it most of us have one tucked at the back of the drawer somewhere – drop it at a recycling point or sell it for refurbishment. That’s win number two for your wallet and your rosy glow.

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