By Niharika Bandaru
The smartphone industry has done it again!
With the new iPhone 8 AND iPhone X rolling out this year, Apple is adding heavily to the already overcrowded smartphone market. What is seemingly less obvious is that Apple, not unlike its competitors, is also adding to the already colossal 100 million-ton CO2 emissions stock it put out extracting, refining, manufacturing, shipping and powering its phones since 2007.
Samsung recalled over 4 million Galaxy Note 7 tablets last year, due to complaints of exploding. That’s million with an M. And it still hasn’t released an effective strategy to deal with the e-waste being produced by these recalled devices.
It’s not always about the looks
In its report aptly titled, “From Smart to Senseless”, Greenpeace USA carefully quantifies what goes on behind the scenes of this “SMART” craze. Fast fashion has not excluded phones and this has created a diaspora of dilemmas. To quote a few:
- 2007 and onwards has seen 968 TWh of energy being used to create smartphones, which Greenpeace’s report estimates as a year’s power supply in India. A lot of that is also very dirty energy from coal plants in countries like China.
- Companies are increasingly making devices that takes away from the end-user’s ability to replace parts or fix the phones themselves, all in a bid to increase short-term profits.
- Workers in mines and electronic factories all the way from Congo to South Korea are exposed to hazardous work on a daily basis, exposing themselves to substances of health concerns and conflict.
- About 3 million metric tons of e-waste has been generated by smart phones and similar devices since 2007, and only 16 % has made it to recycling. You know what happens to the rest? That’s right, it’s either the landfill or a burning fire waiting for them.
THERE ARE MORE SMARTPHONES THAN SPECIES OF LIFE ON OUR PLANET, BY OVER 700 TIMES.
The report succinctly enumerates other problems that have risen from this phenomenon that is expected to go up to 6.1 billion phones globally in 2020; that’s almost 70% of the world’s current population.
How do you like them Apples?
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have woken up to this problem. Apple now employs a robot that takes no more than 11 seconds to separate various components of its phones before recycling.
Consumers too are getting increasingly aware of the gimmicks phone manufacturers are trying to pull when they release five new models back-to-back with only slight incremental changes to the technology. And despite the struggle associated with repairing these phones that could easily last longer than their current induced average 2-year lifetime, consumers are increasingly demanding new phones to be built to last. If you’re not already a part of this cohort, here’s how you can join in!
- Figure out Ways to Make your Phone Last: Don’t take it to the washroom with you. You know you’re going to drop it into you-know-what. Unplug your phone AND charger when it’s done charging to avoid phantom loads and decreased battery lifetimes. Use a phone cover (yes, it’s made of plastic but it doesn’t have any precious virgin metals in it).
- Fix it: While it’s true that OEMs are making short-living smartphones, companies like iFixit are doing a great job of enabling the consumer in repairing them when all hope seems lost. They provide guides, walkthroughs and tools (including fix times), to help you salvage that one-year old phone you accidentally dropped on gravel.
- Sell for Parts: If you NEED to upgrade, however, there’s a way you can go about it sustainably. Sell it for parts; while the screen’s broken, the precious metals inside can still be used in other phones by a responsible recycler. Silver can be used in solar panels, and tungsten in precision tools.
- Buy a Used Phone: Another way to avoid the new phone rut, is to buy a used phone yourself. A lot of used/refurbished hardware being sold come in a wide variety from mint condition to slightly worn. If you’re worried about the cost differences, it may surprise you to know that while you’re only shelling out 200$ upfront for a new phone, you might end up spending upwards of 600$ over the lifetime of your contract.
- Crowdfund: Find and support any crowdfunding ventures that are trying to reduce this egregious problem. The Fairphone, while not a crowdfunding opportunity, is one company that makes phones you can disassemble like Legos, and is built to last but hasn’t been released in North America yet.
- Recycle Responsibly: While curbside recycling is NOT an option for your old phones, a lot of organizations are dedicated to finding a post-consumer life use for them. Find out if any of your local electronic stores offer drop-offs for e-waste (the Devonshire Mall in Windsor hosts an annual e-waste recycling day and other programs). If you’re in the US, there are enterprises like Gazelle that will buy your used phone off of you.
- Educate Yourself: Ask questions. Reports like this one, really hit the nail on the head when it comes to listing the problems associated with electronic consumption. Take a look at your phone, and ask yourself what the materials are, where they could be sourced from, and how much of it is recyclable. Most importantly, don’t ignore the issue at hand.
All of these options are a LOT better than adding to your graveyard of phones.
Learn more on WOC about how you can be an everyday sustainability hero!
1 ton = 2000 lbs
1 metric ton/ tonne = 2204.6 lbs
1 lb = 0.454 kgs