Our all-in-one handheld computers come with ramifications we don't see. Let's say an average person gets their first phone at the age of 10. Current statistics suggest that we upgrade or replace our phones roughly every 2 years and the average human life expectancy in the UK is 81 years. This means that each British consumer will own 35 phones in their lifetime. Someone can have a few more or a few less, but the fact remains - we upgrade phones far too frequently which leads to the depletion of the Earth's resources for the sake of owning newer and faster devices with slightly better cameras.
The Bigger Picture
United Nations University estimated that 49.8 million tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide in 2018. Calculated into just smartphones, this is is the equivalent of 9,023 phones being thrown away every second of the entire year!
While e-waste isn't only small electronics such as mobile phones, our frequently upgraded phones do add up and they fuel the year-on-year increase of this rapidly growing waste stream.
There are 1.4 billion devices manufactured every year to satisfy our desire for the latest and greatest smartphone. Researchers at Plymouth University have found out that to make one phone, 10-15 kg of ore needs to be mined, including 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 1kg of typical copper ore, 750g of typical tungsten ore and 200g of typical nickel ore. To supply enough raw materials for the amount of phones yearly produced, tech corporations are mining tonnes of ores. If we put things in perspective, production of 1.4 billion phones a year requires 21 million tonnes of ores to be mined which equates to 1,532 Big Bens.
Phones simply cannot be made without valuable minerals - a myriad of them is required to power a phone. This includes silicon, carbon, calcium, coltan, iron, gold, copper, nickel, tin and aluminium. Manufacturers also need 200 times more components than those which end up in the final product. One 226g phone needs 74kg of raw materials, and the production of one microchip requires 36 litres of water.
The Environmental Cost
Mining has an enduring and devastating impact on the environment. Natural habitat destruction and the contamination of water and soil puts workers' and members of local communities' lives in danger. Ore grade is decreasing, which has led to mines becoming wider and deeper, labour cost increasing, working conditions lacking safety and the cost per kg of minerals going up, all of which creates huge price tags for our phones.
It's important to reduce what you consume and recycle what's left. When it comes to mobile phones, keeping valuable and rare metals in circulation is an excellent way to save our planet.
Apple developed a way to recycle its products and introduced a new generation of robot called Daisy, capable of taking apart 200 iPhones per hour. Recycling 1.2 million iPhones a year sounds impressive until you take into account publicly disclosed iPhones sales figures- almost 218 million units last year. Daisy as a solution is a single drop in the ocean of e-waste, however one could argue that it is still a commendable action on Apple's part to try to reduce its detrimental impact on the environment.
One phone recycled is one less that needs to be manufactured. Every phone used for just an additional year reduces the strain on Earth’s finite resources. Every phone refurbished can have a second, third or fourth life in the hands of another user before it reaches its true end-of-life.
With the current rapid turnover of devices, electronic waste is a global blight, but if it was dealt with properly, there could be lucrative ways to recover and re-use the planet's rare resources. When your smartphone becomes obsolete, some of its parts haven't lost their value and leaving it in a drawer somewhere or throwing it away would be a waste of valuable materials which could otherwise be re-used. One million 'dead' mobile phones could source 16 tonnes of copper, 350kg of silver, 34kg of gold and 15kg of palladium. You won't find a natural ore with this high concentration of minerals.
Do Your Bit
In a time where the threats facing our planet are too great to ignore, these precious metals are more precious than ever. Humans are very good at talking the talk on the need to protect natural resources, but barely crawling when asked to walk the walk. We all are responsible for taking care of our planet and in order to stop e-waste, everyone needs to get involved.
Making a Change with Compare and Recycle
It’s not a big effort to recycle your phone when you’re done with it, especially with so many merchants willing to buy your old phone. Compare and Recycle will help you get money back for your phone and keep your phone away from polluting landfills.
While the majority of mobile phone manufacturers continue to avoid finding innovative ways to safely recover materials and re-use them for the production of new devices, we're inspired by the thousands of people initiating the change and using Compare and Recycle to keep their phones away from landfills. Together we managed to prevent 30.45 tonnes of mobile phones from becoming waste last year alone, so what are you waiting for?