A report in March 2018 from Fastcodesign suggests that smartphones are far from being carbon-neutral devices. Analysis has shown that buying a new smartphone consumes as much energy as continuing to use one’s old smartphone for another 10 years. The report suggests that it is better to buy a new battery than to upgrade.
Researchers at McMaster University analysed the carbon impact of the whole ICT industry for the period 2010-2020. This included PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones, and servers. They found that the overall environmental impact of technology from 2007 has increased for 1% to the 14% predicted for 2040.
Smartphones have a particularly strong effect. With a two-year average life cycle, they’re more or less disposable. The problem is that building a new smartphone–and specifically, mining the rare materials inside them–represents 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for two years. That means buying one new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.
An independent study of Apple iPhones concluded that the iPhone 6s created 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s, even though Apple claim that their more recent iPhones are environmentally friendly. See:
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (August 2015), Vol. 20, 8, 1181-1196. Authors Suckling and Lee.
Another independent study found that the iPhone 6s creates 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s. The article suggests that even keeping a smartphone for three years, rather than two, can have a considerable impact on a person’s carbon footprint. It’s down to the need for mining the rare minerals needed to make a new phone. This sounds like a similar situation to that I described in another post of this website, in which the mining of cobalt (in Africa) for a new electric car can create more environmental damage that continuing to drive an old petrol-driven car. It’s greener to keep an old phone than upgrade to a new one.
The full report by Mark Wilson can be found at: