How green are modern smartphones?

How green are modern smartphones?

It’s not often a television programme changes the world, but Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has transformed the planet’s attitudes to plastic.

The final, harrowing episode in this documentary series inspired a global debate on mankind’s attitude towards plastics, and their impact on our planet’s faltering ecosystem.

It demonstrated the importance of everything from growing flowers to reducing air travel, while turning people’s hearts and minds against the use of disposable plastics.

Our Blue Planet also sparked a worldwide debate on materialism – not least our desire to purchase the latest smartphone every twelve months.

It’s even directly influenced manufacturer efforts to reduce the use of plastics or non-recyclable components in their products.

The rush to develop environmentally friendly smartphones

In today’s age of venture-capital startups and crowdfunded innovations, it’s unsurprising that environmentally friendly smartphones are being launched by specialist companies.

Consider the Fairphone 2, described as “the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone”.

Its six main internal modules can be purchased individually, extending the life of this twin-SIM handset with its removable battery.

Materials are sustainably sourced from conflict-free regions, while recycled plastic and aluminium components are designed to be reused as far as possible.

Bigger companies are following a similar route towards sustainability, with Sony’s affordable Xperia ZR assembled almost entirely from recycled materials.

Sony’s long-term plan is to establish a zero environmental footprint, which is why the ZR uses minimal toxic materials.

Its specifications lag behind the Fairphone and other high-end smartphones, but they’ll be perfectly adequate for many consumers.

A greener option

One alternative to environmentally friendly smartphones involves making better use of devices already in circulation.

Consumers on SIM-only contracts are less likely to dispose of a perfectly serviceable handset than people on an arbitrary contract, who are suddenly ‘due’ an upgrade.

SIM-only consumers tend to upgrade for more justifiable reasons, such as hardware failure or groundbreaking new technologies.

There is also a thriving (and growing) market for second-hand devices, which are often every bit as desirable as newer models.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is a fine handset, but 2016’s S7 predecessor also offers fingerprint unlocking, contactless payments, automatic cloud backups and 14 days of standby time.

Newer handsets are less about transformative features and more about subtle evolution, diminishing the arguments for upgrading.

In terms of environmentally friendly smartphones, the best option often involves using an existing device until it’s no longer reliable.

This is where refurbished devices come into their own, combining specifications which wouldn’t disgrace a new phone with far more affordable prices.

The Google Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 are thoroughly modern devices containing advanced user features, but they can be purchased for a fraction of their successors’ up-front costs.

The first owner will have borne the brunt of any depreciation, meaning a refurbished device with a SIM-only deal provides a genuine bargain.

And best of all, this pre-manufactured unit won’t cost the earth.

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