Is There Such Thing as a Sustainable Mobile Phone?

What Mobile
October 25, 2019

There is a conflict in your pocket. You are making the effort to live more sustainably – taking reusable bags to the supermarket, remembering to turn devices off at the socket and being sure to recycle. But the device we rely on every day is hindering our efforts of living a more sustainable life.

So, what makes mobiles unsustainable?

Setting aside the materials phones are made from because let’s face it, who can live their modern lives without a smartphone of some sort. What makes a mobile so eco-unfriendly?

Their Life After Death

In the UK alone,  95% of households own a mobile phone and 7.6 million iPhones were bought in the UK in 2017, those number rising year-on-year. When a phone owner replaces their device at the end of a contract, on average every 24 months, where do those devices end up?

The two most popular avenues for old devices are either gathering dust in a drawer or on landfill. It is estimated that there are a staggering 125 million phones sitting in drawers. These phones are taken out of circulation and miss their opportunity to be used by another person, ending up in a phone limbo until they are too outdated to be desirable. Once this happens they then meet their inevitable fate as part of the 50 million tons of annual e-waste.

To ensure you are not actively contributing to the amassing waste, it is important you recycle old devices as soon as possible. Do you have a family member that could benefit from being handed an old device? Or, if you would like to earn a little pocket change, why not sell the device? If you are tied to an operator this can reduce your pool of potential buyers but it is still an avenue that could be explored.

Alternatively, you could recycle your phone. Many providers offer to take old models off your hands, some being broken down for parts to help refurbish and fix more phones; while others are simply refurbished and offered to other customers for slightly less than the retail price.

Their Accessories

Once the phone is created and delivered to the user, the environmental impact doesn’t simply end there.  

Whether it is in the name of fashion or protection, many smartphone owners choose to buy cases for their phone, these are often made of plastic and considered disposable as fashion changes and cases inevitably wear. The popularity of these accessories has created a demand for more plastic to be used in the industry, to make both the cases and the packaging they come in.

Despite some distributors leading you to believe that their product is an eco-friendlier version than plastic orientated competitors, wooden and bamboo cases still have their issues. They are prone to scratches and cracks which negate their protectiveness; meaning you would need to replace it. Also, to make them waterproof, a chemical finished is required, leaving the material unsuitable for composting.

So if plastic cases are bad and wooden cases are not ideal, what other options are there? Thankfully, there are now truly sustainable options available. For example, Pela has created the world’s first 100% compostable phone case. Made from Flax shive and a plant-based biopolymer, these cases can be placed in compost bins to decompose when no longer needed. So far over half a million people have purchased one of their cases, meaning Pela have already saved 290,461 pounds of plastic from being produced.

Their Providers

Lastly, we have to point a finger at the mobile phone providers. It is true that many are now making some effort to become more environmentally friendly by offering 36-month contracts, for example. However due to fears of missing out on the newest technology not many will choose to keep their devices for three years.

The main issue with many of these networks is their sustainability relies on consumers taking up one of these options. You can sign up to keep the same device for three years, if you want to. You can send your phone back to be recycled, if you want to. You can buy one of their older model refurbished phones, if you want to. You can sign up for paperless billing, if you want to. Every step of their sustainability hinges on the public making these choices for them.

Of course, you can be one to choose these paths of eco-friendly phone ownership. However, choose a phone provider that has environmental awareness built into their company.

For example, Raylo are new to the eco-friendly phone market. They offer a 24-month contract, which once up will see them replace your phone, automatically taking the old model to be recycled and continue its life in circulation. They are also B-Corp certified. B Corporations (B Corps) are part of a non-profit that serves a global movement of people using profits and growth to positively impact their employees, economies, communities, and the environment.

As well as this they also donate a percentage of their profits to Plastic Oceans every time a customer signs up with them. Mobile phones will never be fully sustainable, but there are changes that can be made to make your phone ownership have less of a negative impact on the environment.

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