The True Cost of Smartphone Upgrades

Iphones, in a row

Smartphone technology is evolving rapidly. Every year there are better cameras, performance, refresh rates, screens and batteries. Tempted by a host of new features, people can’t help but upgrade to the latest model, but what happens to all the smartphones we go through? What is the true environmental impact of smartphone upgrades?

The average lifespan of a smartphone is 3 to 4 years, perhaps even 5, but by that time the battery’s capacity is likely to have decreased significantly. After an average lifespan has been reached, most people will throw away their smartphone and upgrade to a more recent model.

On average only 12,5% of electronic waste is recycled, with approximately 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste disposed of worldwide every year.

This is a huge problem for the environment due to the chemicals in these devices leaching into the groundwater system from landfills, polluting the land, water and air.

Image of a landfill, the impact of smartphone upgrades

With companies constantly encouraging people to upgrade by stopping updates for older models, it renders them obsolete.

Not only is this a problem for the environment, but by throwing away these devices, we are wasting precious metals such as copper, silver, gold, palladium and other raw materials, that would require significant resources to mine and manufacture.

Internals of a smartphone that go to waste when smartphone upgrades take place

This is why it is important to recycle old cell phones and preserve these increasingly scarce materials where possible.

Here are some suggestions on how to alleviate these problems:

  1. Instead of buying a new phone, why not change the battery? Often the smartphone is still in good condition.
  2. Once you have had your smartphone for several years and have already changed the battery, you could recycle it and buy a new one. Some companies offer trade-ins fo credit to use on your next phone.
  3. You could buy a refurbished product; they are often as good as brand new with the added benefit it helps the environment and saves you money.
  4. Instead of throwing the phone away you could sell it, or give it to a friend/family member.

Bottom line

The bottom line is currently we change smartphones too often. There is no specific amount of time that you should keep the same phone between smartphone upgrades, but when changing, think about where your phone may end up if you don’t recycle it, sell it or pass it on to someone else.

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Scott Hickman

Founder of The Detechtor and host of The Detechtor Podcast | Techy | Politics enthusiast | Musician | Loves coffee ☕️

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