Wednesday, 29th July, 2020 - 10:09
It’s safe to say, mobile phones are a huge part of everyday life. Whether you are sitting at a bus stop, a coffee shop or even at home surrounded by the family, you are sure to see someone glued to a screen. They are a vital lifeline for a lot of people, many people will not even be able to even remember a time before they came along! But what is often overlooked is the environmental impact of the production of a Phone. How much does it really cost to produce a brand-new device for you to scroll through Instagram, and how can buying used phones help offset this?
From 2007 to 2017 more than 7 billion new mobile phones were produced.[i] For reference, now in 2020, there are thought to be 5.2 billion people with access to mobile devices. [ii] This leaves 1.8 Billion devices unaccounted for in that decade alone, not to mention the additional devices produced in the 3 years to follow. As more and more brands release new models, some as often as every 6 months, the cost of creating these devices is soaring but so is the amount of resources they take to develop.
Most people will be forgiven for thinking phones are made mainly of Glass, Plastic and Metal, and to some extent would be correct - these are the most common materials found in Mobile Phones. But did you know the glass on your phone contains aluminium oxide and silicon dioxide with an ultra-thin layer of indium tin oxide added so you can touch the screen without damaging it? Or that the Metals inside your phone include Aluminium alloys, Gold, Copper, Silver, Platinum and Tungsten? [iii] When taking into account the number of excess devices that are created yearly, this is a huge amount of wasted natural resources, not to mention the resources that are spent physically developing and gathering them. One thing not commonly thought of is where these resources actually come from.[iv] Often materials such as Tungsten and Cobalt comes from conflict zones in places such as Africa and China, meaning the human cost as well as the environmental cost of these materials is high. Mining for more and more materials means destruction of natural habitats and endangering wildlife, as well as the labour costs as increased efforts are required to extract these materials, which usually equates to dangerous and low-paid work for the local populace.
Environmental concerns are definitely on the rise, and rightly so. In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste, but just 20% of this was recycled through appropriate channels.[v] Quite simply, more must be done in order to protect the environment.
Some major phone companies do seem to be taking this onboard, and even trying to come up with their own buy back or trade in deals. For example, Apple, one of the world’s biggest phone manufacturers, have designed and created an iPhone disassembly robot called ‘Daisy’ which can disassemble 1.2 million devices per year. In 2018, it allowed Apple to refurbish 7.8 million devices.[vi] It sounds like an impressive number, but when you see that they sold 217.72 million devices in the same year, there’s still a very, very long way to go. [vii]
There are a few things that you can do to help end the mass proliferation of Mobile Phone production.
Buy Used Phones – Buying a used phone is the single best thing you as a consumer can do to combat this issue. There are many retailers such as 4Gadgets that sell used phones that are as good as new and usually much cheaper than buying a brand-new device. In general, the longer a device can be used before being discarded the better it is for the environment.
Buy Refurbished phones – Giving a mobile phone a second lifecycle is another option. If phones are kept, used and loved for longer, then it’s a lot less likely that they will end up in landfill. Replacing a select few parts on a phone and reselling the device, rather than simply recycling a phone also reduces the number of phones being bought new. If everyone did this the mobile phone industry would simply have to take notice.
Sell your phone – Do not discard of your phone when you are tired of it or get that upgrade, sell it! Selling your phone not only gives the phone a further lifecycle, it also earns you a bit of money to spend on something else, so why wouldn’t you! There are great services such as Fone Wizard who allow you to post your phone for free, and get paid!
Recycle your phone – If you don’t want to sell a phone, then you may want to just recycle your phone responsibly. There are many charities or recycle bins around that will do this, but do some research that they accept mobile devices. Many companies that buy phones will also recycle a phone for you free of charge.
Buy Phones without a contract – Buying mobile phones on a contract basis almost draws you into that upgrade at the end of the period, meaning you could be replacing your phone every 1-2 years, usually with a brand-new device. This clearly has a huge environmental impact; no-one needs a new phone that often! Buy a mobile phone without a contract, as it will usually convince you to keep hold of that device a little longer.
In partnership with our sister site Fonewizard, 4Gadgets offer a full second lifecycle solution for used phones. Sell your phone to Fonewizard, and 4Gadgets will find it a new owner who will love it as you once did. Selling old phones and buying used phones and refurbished devices is the single best thing you can do to reduce your own footprint in this area.