Mobile phones have a bad habit of being thrown away rather than recycled or re-used, but this is quickly changing. As manufacturers become more interested in making greener phones, they will inevitably produce more environmentally friendly products — with greener phones on the horizon.
(Image Source: The World Economic Forum)
Since we’re still waiting for that big breakthrough invention, the mobile phone is all we’ve got when it comes to innovation. That’s not necessarily a problem in and of itself: just because we’ve mostly stopped innovating with how things are used, doesn’t mean there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to how they’re made.
Perhaps the earliest green smartphones ever released were the Sony X10 and Nokia N95 — devices that showed that there was nothing stopping manufacturers releasing greener products. Sure, they weren’t perfect (recycled components made up a small percentage of their overall build) but they were still hugely important for setting the tone for what was to come.
The Samsung Epix was supposed to be the first ever “green” smartphone but it was rejected by Greenpeace for not being environmentally friendly enough. This was perhaps a key moment in the history of greener smartphones, especially considering that Samsung sold a vast quantity of these phones and went on to release several other greener products.
Greener smartphones are becoming better and more efficient as time goes on. If you think about the environmental impact of a smartphone you’re probably thinking about those things that we might want to avoid: the excessive use of power, or the exorbitant amount of waste created during production and usage. Sadly, it’s often far too easy to dismiss these issues as just another thing that can’t be avoided.
In order to take this matter seriously, it’s important to look at what is actually possible with today’s technology. A greener smartphone can be made from recycled parts. Many people think of recycling as a good thing, but it’s often considered to be a waste of time because there’s no point in extracting raw materials from one product to build another product — it defeats the entire purpose of recycling. With smartphones, however, there is an obvious synergy that comes with using recycled materials. Once a device has reached its end-of-life the parts can be extracted and used for building something new.
Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist William Demchak said that “We believe in recovering and reusing 100 percent of our products, and we’re working to make sure all our products are designed with this ethic in mind. We’re doing our best to reduce packaging’s footprint, and we’re also utilizing locally sourced materials whenever it’s possible”.
In a perfect world, every smartphone manufacturer would be able to reap the benefits of recycling their own materials. We are nowhere near that point at the moment, but with the mining industry becoming less viable over time (and the unfortunate reality of human nature) it will become increasingly feasible for recycling to be used across all of our industries. It might not happen overnight, but one day there will be few or no ‘new’ products produced — simply because old ones can be recycled into something new and useful.
Greenpeace’s Toxics Campaigner Mika Minio-Paluello said “We hope that Apple and Samsung are moving in a greener direction by finding ways to reduce the toxic chemicals in their products, but we need to see more evidence of this before we can relax”.
The concept of a greener smartphone is often perceived as being an overly ambitious one. In order for anyone to buy into the idea it’s important to prove that what is being done has a solid foundation. If you go about it the wrong way, people will generally try and shoot you down rather than help you on your way — so at least try not to make it hard for yourself from day one.