Smartphones are ubiquitous. Although several years ago you could expect longevity from your handheld device lasting upwards of 4.5 years, nowadays the yearly rush for new models and upgrades has considerably lessened their lifespan. After all, most phones are not replaced because of technological faults or failures; they are replaced because they are out of fashion. This is a sobering thought indeed. Where technological advancements in battery life and alternative rare material sources are undoubtedly a step forward on the road to a sustainable phone, these new devices still contribute to what is known as e-waste – the toxic legacy of wasting products as a result of new trends, batteries, materials and tastes, as defined by the United Nations. Here we ask how ecologically smart your smartphone is, how the iPhone compares and some of the more sustainable devices on the market.
Is the iPhone Green?
First things first, the tech giant Apple. Apple have committed to ecological energy supplies. They aim for their data hubs and factories to be run on renewable energy like solar. They have also committed to using 100% recycled materials for their packaging. But just how green is Apple really?
The iPhone is constructed out of a range of rare metals and plastics which, aside from being sourced from unsafe or hazardous working environments, are also derived through earth-damaging materials and processes. Although the data on such sources is scant, Greenpeace found a range of dangerous metals which have caused damage to ecosystems. The new iPhone X, a model which ditches the metal body of the iPhone 6 in favour of glass, is predicted to further cause more ecological damage. Not only have Apple replaced and wasted an entire category of plugged-in headphones in favour of wireless, the shell of the phone is more vulnerable to damage, drawing on yet more natural resources when repaired. With this in mind, what can we do?
Battery Life and Using Energy
Looking for phones with a longer battery life and charging your phone more wisely will use less energy. In this regard, the new iPhones are consistently improving and using up less energy in the home. But with changing technologies, particularly smarter technologies, comes more stress on the environmental sources of such materials. Cobalt, the source for rechargeable lithium ion batteries, is a profoundly wasteful and polluting industry. With labour indiscretions — from child workers to lax labour laws — in source nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is little alternative out there for this material. Furthermore, the manufacturing of phones causes the most carbon emissions. Although we’ve seen Apple take steps to reduce its footprint, more needs to be done to combat the cycle of upgrading, replacing and wasting our devices.
Although it may be smart in the short term to buy these clever new upgrades and existing models, there are a host of greener phones being manufactured with independent energy technologies and sources of production. Among the most unique models are the Fairphone and Neda’s Delta. Fairphone is produced from recycled materials in strict low-carbon manufacturing facilities and with repairs done by the user themselves. Similarly, the Delta is a self-energising device which charges internally, by itself. With no energy requirements, it is a greener device that could be even greener with stricter manufacturing controls.
The Easy Solution: Recycle, Refurbish, Reuse
Although you could opt for an environmentally friendly Fairphone or an ingenious low-energy Delta, the most sustainable solution for your smartphone is the simplest one yet: recycle. By repurposing your smartphone after you are done, you avoid contributing to the most unsustainable aspect of smartphones today: e-waste. Websites like sellmymobile.com allow you to find a market for your used device, and manufacturers — including Apple — have schemes for you to trade and upgrade, where the original phone will be recycled and repurposed by the company. Alternatively, batteries can be replaced. If it dies, you can take your phone to a specialist without wasting the entire device.
One thing is certainly true going forward. Although smartphones have become wasteful consumer objects, they are likely to become more wasteful as they become ever more integral to our everyday lives. However, all is not lost. Apple, LG and Samsung have, among others, made steps to integrate sustainable methods into their production lines, and companies like Fairphone are revolutionising the future of phone sustainability. In the meantime, remember that you can make steps to lessen your ecological footprint simply by recycling your iPhone 6 or purchasing a refurbished one.