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If you’re looking to replace or upgrade your smartphone in the coming year, give it some thought. Do you really need a new phone or do you just fancy the shiny new technology? There are a few issues to consider besides the affordability of the new device.
In particular, our desire to always have the latest smartphone comes at a high environmental cost.
A smartphone’s life begins in mines around the world, where critical minerals are extracted. These materials are transported to factories where they are refined, often using high temperatures and significant energy, and turned into components such as batteries, wires, logic boards and motors. The components are then transported by fossil-fuel vehicles to other factories to be assembled into complete devices, before being shipped to consumers around the world.
As taxing as this manufacturing process is on the climate and the environment, it is made even worse by the frequency with which consumers replace their phones. And when thrown away, electronic devices cause toxic damage to the environment.
“Smartphones seem so small and unimportant, so unless you’ve studied supply chains and realized everything that goes into creating [them]you really have no idea how devastating these things are to the environment,” Cole Stratton, an associate instructor at Indiana University Bloomington who studied supply chains, previously told CNN. technologies.
Unfortunately, manufacturers have always made it difficult to repair appliances, so much so that replacing them often seems like an easier solution than fixing them, contributing to the already serious climate crisis.
According to Swappie, which refurbishes and resells iPhones, 1.4 billion new smartphones expected to ship this year will generate 146 million tonnes of planet-warming emissions, 83% of which come from manufacturing, shipping and the first year of use.
“A lot of people don’t know the real impact buying a new smartphone has on the environment,” Swappie COO Emma Lehikoinen told CNN. “Now when we look at refurbished devices, it’s a very different story.”
This is where the growing right to repair movement comes in.
Right-to-repair advocates have called for laws to require appliance manufacturers to publish the tools, parts and repair manuals necessary to allow consumers to have their products repaired by independent stores or to do it themselves. same.
If consumers could repair devices more easily, advocates say they wouldn’t have to replace them as frequently, reducing reliance on the resource-intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting production process. and ultimately reduce e-waste.
The climate footprint of an average refurbished phone from Swappie in 2021 was 78% lower than that of an average new phone, the company reported.
“If we can’t repair our stuff, the consequences are that we throw away a lot more,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, a coalition fighting for the right to repair, previously told CNN. “We can no longer cope with the volume… We are swimming in products that we can no longer recycle.”
Resist the urge to upgrade. If your phone still works, get the most out of it. “The greenest smartphone is the one you already own,” Stratton said.
Get it fixed. If your phone breaks down, have it repaired directly by the manufacturer — like Samsung or Apple — or take it to a store like Micro Center, Best Buy, or another local tech repair shop authorized to repair your brand of phone. A broken or faulty phone can often be fixed with easy repairs that might cost less than replacing it. Apple opened its self-service repair store this year, providing manuals and parts to consumers looking for DIY solutions for their iPhones.
Make a donation. There are many good causes that accept phone donations to refurbish or sell for cash, including the Salvation Army and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Sell it instead of throwing it away. You can resell your used smartphone to specialized refurbishment companies like Swappie to give it (or its parts) a second life. “What a lot of people also don’t know is that even broken phones can still be valuable,” Lehikoinen said. “It’s because of the materials used to produce them but also the parts they include.”
Recycle it properly. If your phone is completely broken and cannot be sold or given away, you can still recycle it properly. You just need to do a little research to find out how and where to recycle it properly. For example, at Swappie’s temporary store in Milan, they are asking the local community to help them collect 50 kilograms of broken phones for recycling.
A version of this story was originally published in October 2021.