Environmental Points to Consider When Choosing a New Smartphone

Environmental Points to Consider When Choosing a New Smartphone

As someone who is interested in being as “green” as possible, you have probably wondered how smartphones impact the environment.

Unfortunately, smartphones are not always great for our Earth. People are notorious for replacing their smartphones before they have worn out. While some may be donated, many phones end up in the landfill. In addition, cell phones are made from materials that are not high on the ‘green’ list.

They contain a large amount of plastic which comes from crude oil, and the insides are made of silicon wafers which require a great deal of resources to produce.

Cell phones also contain small amounts of cobalt, aluminum and gold, which must be mined from the Earth, and the lithium metallic oxide batteries can leak into the ground once they are discarded.

What You Can Do to Help

Fortunately, you can help reduce the environmental impact of smartphones in a number of tangible ways. As the EPA suggests, when selecting a new phone, look for one that has many of the features that you want. This way, you’ll be less tempted to buy a new one after only a year or two.

Also, take great care of your phone by protecting it with a case and — unless it is listed as dust and water resistant — keeping it away from the backyard pool and garden.

When you are ready to replace your phone, donate your old one to charity or to a local recycling center; just be sure to wipe all of your personal data from the phone first.

Many of the inner workings of recycled phones can be used again. For example, the metals can be reborn as automotive parts and jewelry, and the plastics can be used in garden furniture.

Choose Your New Phone Wisely

Another great way to do your part to make smartphone use as Earth-friendly as possible is to choose a phone that has a smaller carbon footprint than past and current models.

A great example of this is the extra-thin and lightweight iPhone 5s. Unlike some of the newer phones that are almost tablet-sized, the iPhone 5s is compact and uses as little resources as possible in its production.

Buy From a Company that Cares About the Environment

Fortunately, smartphones’ negative impact on the Earth has not gone unnoticed by major manufacturers. Companies like Apple are working hard to do whatever they can to minimize their carbon footprint.

For example, 96 percent of the electricity used by their facilities around the world comes from green energy sources like wind, hydro and solar. This means that when you ask Siri where to find a great pizza place, the answer is powered by renewable energy.

In addition, Apple is currently looking at ways to have a closed-loop supply chain, which means they will build new phones using old ones — not by mining the Earth or using up other resources.

As for the packaging, Apple says they use recycled and responsibly sourced paper 99 percent of the time — for example, iPhone 7 boxes are made from recycled paper, waste sugarcane and bamboo.

It is reassuring to know that just because a certain type of product tends to be less than Earth-friendly, there are still tangible steps you can take to minimize your carbon footprint.

By recycling your old smartphone, making sure your new phone is loaded with features and as small as possible, and shopping from an environmentally aware company like Apple, you can help lessen your personal impact on the Earth.


Mark Whitman is a sustainability and management consultant with significant experience in carbon management, corporate social responsibility and environmental management. He has worked with major companies such as Microsoft, BP, Westpac and Aegis Group. Mark holds a first class bachelors degree in economics and environmental science from the University of Cape Town and a masters degree from Cambridge University. He founded the Sustainable Business Toolkit in 2011 and is the lead editor for the website.

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