While mobile phones are surprisingly energy efficient during day to day use, the environmental effect of building a brand-new smartphone produces a staggering amount of environmental waste.
In fact, it is estimated that producing a new smartphone accounts for 85% to 95% of its CO2 emissions over its average two-year lifecycle, with the majority of these emissions caused by the mining of rare materials. Incredibly, buying just one new phone uses as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for ten years!
Compounding this issue, the volume of emissions created is rising with each new release. The iPhone 6s produced 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s, for example.
Even major smartphone manufacturers acknowledge that production accounts for most of their emissions; According to Apple’s own Environmental Responsibility Report, 74% of their carbon footprint is caused by the manufacturing process, with just 17% coming from the device being used.
Alongside the issue of CO2 emission, the production of a new phone requires a lot of resources. Gold, silver and platinum, as well as rare Earth metals like Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium, are all common components in modern smartphones. All these elements represent a finite resource, meaning we have to much more judicious when mining them.
A secondary problem for environmental waste associated with smartphones is E-. In 2019, there was an estimated 50m tonnes of electronic waste and that figure is expected to double by 2050. To put that into context, it is estimated that electronics account for 70% of toxic landfill, with phones being a major contributor.
So, what is the solution?
While smartphones are essential, it is clear we cannot carry on as normal.
The easiest way to curtail our environmental impact is to stick with them for longer. Studies suggest that using a mobile for an extra year cuts its lifetime CO2 impact by a third.
Sometimes, however, keeping hold of our old phone is not an option. Either the phone is slow, and its battery life has been slashed or we have broken it somehow. This is where refurbished phones come in!
Going refurbished reduces the carbon emissions and resource demand associated with building a new phone, while also preventing an old phone from going to landfill. If enough people buy refurbished phones, it could have a major positive impact on the environment!