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Smartphones - are they sustainable?

Sustainability of the Smartphone

It has been estimated over 38.1 million iPhone’s have been sold in the UK alone, and now, most of us can’t imagine life without them. But did you know what your smartphone is made from? It might be much more valuable than you think.

Every smartphone is packed full of rare earth metals; copper, silver, gold, palladium, lanthanum (just to name a few)! Did you know one tonne of iPhones contain 300 times more gold than a tonne of gold ore? And each device contains 75 elements, almost a whole periodic table!

Watch: What is a smartphone made of
Watch: Why It Takes 75 Elements to Make Your Cell Phone

On average iPhone users upgrade every 11 months- and it is estimated only 10% of old phones actually get recycled. So, what do you do with your old phone? And how sustainable is owning one?

Some Apple products have been brandished by Vice as an “environmental tragedy”. For example, from 18 months old, the Lithium Ion battery in Airpods hold less charge and they slowly become unusable. They can’t be repaired as they are glued together and they can’t be recycled, as there is no safe way to get into the plastic shell.

Phone manufacturers have a long way to go to increase the recyclability of their products. However, if you want to be more environmentally conscious about how you own a smartphone, then we have some useful tips to save resources and money:

Reduce: The first of the 3 R’s. Initially it is important to buy less which ultimately will save resources AND yourself money.

  • Don’t upgrade every year. Consider if you NEED a new phone and if you could just carry on using your phone for longer. Think about the amount of resources went into making your smartphone and what a waste it would be to throw away!

Reuse: Consider if there are any ways you can make the life of the device last longer.

  • Buy second hand! Visit websites such as Ebay, CEX or Envirofone for refurbished handsets. You would be really surprised how cheap you can get an smartphone (in great condition) if you look second hand. Read this guide for some more help if you’re considering buying a refurbished phone.
  • If your device is broken, can it be easily repaired? Something as simple as replacing a broken screen can extend your smartphones life and save you money. The average screen replacement can range in price from £60-150. Alternatively, buy the correct screen online and your nearest Repair Cafe may be able to fix it for you, as well as a few other fixes. 
  • Give your old device to someone else! Is there anyone you know who would appreciate your old phone? A sibling, niece, nephew, grandparent or friend?

Recycle: If your smartphone can’t be reused, it is possible some of the resources within it can still be recovered.

  • Kerbside recycling: In Devon some district councils collect small electricals at the kerbside. Visit our page if you are unsure if your local area collects them.
  • Recycling centres: Most recycling centres have a small electricals bin. To find a recycling centre near you click here.
  • Visit websites offering to buy your old phone for cash. You can get a quote for your device, even if its broken- your phone will then either get refurbished or recycled. Use this site to compare the best prices online for your phone.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. People shouldn’t carelessly throw battery-powered electronics into the bin. The press should write less about shiny new things and more about how to make old stuff last longer. And some gadget makers, including Apple, should be taking steps to make recycling easier.”