Upgrading your phone might be hurting the environment.
New technology is fantastic. Peeling away that plastic wrap from whatever Apple or Samsung latest creation is always exciting.
But your old, dented and chipped phone has to go somewhere, and unfortunately it often ends up as waste. Phones are made up of valuable materials that require a lot of extracting from the earth.
Precious metals known as rare earth elements along with gold and silver, are extracted and used in a majority of electronics manufacturing. (A shortage of these materials was actually the cause of a world war in one of the Call of Duty video games.) Despite containing precious metals, old cell phones tend to be left in desk drawers and storage bins because of their relative small size and the idea that you might donate it to a friend or use it as a spare in case your current phone breaks.
A backup phone isn’t a bad idea, but the problem lies in hoarding these little electronics away. According to research published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, there are an estimated 85 million unused phones in the United Kingdom alone.
If these unused phones end up in a landfill, besides being a waste of recyclable materials, they can cause an excessive amount of lead to seep into the ground.
On the bright side, electronics can be recycled. And the good news is that Americans are recycling their electronics more than ever before. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 40 percent of consumer electronics were recycled in 2013, which is up from the 30.6 percent that was recycled in 2012.
The bad news is that e-recycling isn’t perfect and is riddled with corruption. About 90 percent of the world’s e-waste is actually illegally traded or dumped every year, according to a United Nation’s report.
Recycled phones could also end up in a developing country, where people pick through piles of cell phones among other electronics for useful materials and burn the rest, turning “green” upside down.
Even with the availability of recycled goods, manufacturers might actually find it cheaper to just buy freshly mined materials instead of trying to go through the long process of extracting the materials out of old cell phones.
The study’s researchers, in discussing our constant need to upgrade phones, suggest manufactures move to more cloud-based systems for upgrades, which will make upgrading a phone obsolete, except for maybe the camera.
Google’s Project Ara might provide a good middle ground if it works. Google is creating a phone where you piece together and upgrade only the necessary parts, which would hopefully cut down on waste.
These statistics may feel a little discouraging to the tech-loving environmentalist. So, what is the best option for that old cell phone that chugs running Angry Birds?
Try selling it on eBay or Craigslist or giving it away if it is relatively new or within its two-year life cycle. And don’t forget and just leave it in the drawer! That way, someone can get some use out of it, before it becomes too obsolete.
If your phone is on its last legs to give away or sell without feeling guilty about dumping your glitchy phone onto someone else, just recycle or donate it. Yes, I know that it might end up in a landfill anyway, but it has a better chance than just dumping it straight into the trash bin.
To find the closest place to recycle or donate your phone, head to the EPA’s website. Of course, the best way to help the environment, is to hold on to your cell phone until it just won’t work anymore.
If you do want to get a new phone, maybe try the used route. Check out a website like GreenCells or eBay for your next phone and save some money in the process.
My mom still owns and uses her flip phone from 2005, so it certainly can be done. And the earth will thank you for it.