Environmental impact of smartphone CO2 emissions

The environmental impact of your phone

Smartphones are the world’s most common electronic device. Every year the producers unveil new versions with flashy upgrades and we keep buying them. This isn’t very surprising, in modern society you have to have a phone. However, have you ever considered the environmental impact of smartphones?

There are 4,5 billion smartphones in use and the production of those has resulted in a massive 146 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s not the only problem caused by our smartphone habits. The continuous replacement of phones is resulting in e-waste that’s not being properly recycled. Not recycling means toxic metals end up in the wrong place and new ones have to be dug up causing more damage.

Tracking the environmental impact

Maybe the 4,5 billion smartphones in use might not impress you, producing new ones should be the real problem right? That’s actually correct, the problem is that out of the phones in use 1,4 billion were manufactured last year. 

When you talk about the environmental impact caused by smartphones you have to take into account the entire process. That means digging up the metals, manufacturing, and all the shipping. The process consumes a lot of energy and one single smartphone causes about 85 kg of emissions in its first year of use.

The sum of the parts

High-tech devices like smartphones require rare metals which obviously have to be mined. Tungsten, gold, and tin are all essential components. The source of these metals is often countries with less strict regulations concerning the environment. We’re not only talking about huge amounts of CO2 emissions but a production process that poisons the land and groundwater.

Semiconductors are essential parts of any electronics and producing them is a very sensitive process, it’s crucial to control the humidity and temperature. Manufacturing semiconductors consume such a vast amount of energy that the factories have to be located next to a large power source.

Ofcourse, all the components, and materials in your smartphone need to be shipped between the different production facilities. From the mines in Africa to the semiconductor factories in Taiwan to the assembly plants, the warehouses, and then finally into your pocket. From raw material to consumer, a smartphone will often have seen 3 different continents. Transport and logistics contribute around 24% of global emissions, and swapping phones adds to that number.

Rugged devices reduce emissions

Production of new smartphones is by far the biggest problem. When the phone arrives in your hand the energy-intensive manufacturing process is behind it. Approximately 83% of smartphone emissions are emitted during production. So there is a fairly simple solution to cutting those emissions, use the same device longer.

Rugged devices offer a great solution for professional use. Punishing environments are going to take their toll and a consumer device is going to have an even shorter lifespan, creating more emissions faster. The rugged devices on the other hand will easily last 3 to 5 years and often even longer than that. A phone that breaks needs to be replaced, causing more pollution. In a tough working environment, between 10 and 23 percent of consumer devices fail within the first year.

Additionally, quality rugged devices are made to be repaired while consumer products are not, spare parts will be available longer and the warranty will too. The next time it’s time to replace your electronics, choose rugged ones. It’s better for the planet as well as your wallet.