human activity and the destruction of the planet

The Carbon Footprint of Smartphones

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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:



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