Smartphones are one of the most ecologically expensive objects on the planet. When you consider how many resources go into making these tiny devices, the tragedy of what happens to the majority of them can be overwhelming. It’s for this reason that extending the life of your devices becomes so important. There are few actions that can do as much to benefit our planet as simply delaying the purchase of a new phone—or any gadget, for that matter. And when it comes time to retire that device, doing so in a responsible and circular way could make the original expense significantly lighter on your conscience… and the planet.
How big is your footprint?
When we speak of carbon or water footprints, we are talking about the impact a single consumer’s actions have on the planet. Specifically, how much of our Earth’s resources go into giving you the life you currently have. This can be a sobering and, often, horrifying exercise, since it takes into consideration the entire supply chain for any one thing you purchase or use.
Take electricity, for example: the power you are using to read this blog post had to come from somewhere, right? Well, looking back at all the steps it took to get the power to your device, we can see just how “expensive” this article has become. Of course, it’s not expensive to us financially, since most of us pay a consistent rate for our electricity; the expense is environmental in nature.
Similarly, the typical cost of ownership for electronic devices is often only looked at in terms of the sale price at the time of purchasing something. However, true ownership cost spans the moment ore is extracted to when it is either reclaimed in a new product or retired back to the earth.
This cost includes not only the carbon emitted by making a device, but the water, energy, and talent it takes to bring such a powerful thing into existence. A footprint can say a lot about what you as a consumer have done—and continue to do—to put our world in its current state. No pressure.
So, why should I care about this?
It may seem pointless to count factors you have no control over—I mean, you can’t very well dictate which mine Apple gets its cobalt from, right? But that would be shortsighted at the true impact each of us has on this world. Of course, the cost is diffused somewhat by the sheer volume of products those manufacturers make, but this evaluation gives us a better sense of what we’re doing to the environment when we go on a spending spree.
This is more than just “checking-in” on our impact. When we look at objects on footprint terms, our purchase decisions are more closely aligned to the reality of what these conveniences are costing our world—and the real value of our devices is revealed. This is good because it acts as motivation for making the kind of changes that really will save our planet; things like reuse and extending the life of your devices.
And why all the noise about reuse?
You can lobby for decades to get manufacturers to stop mining virgin resources or destroying our planet to make their products and likely not change the amount of emissions those manufacturers are making. If, however, you use your smartphone, tablet, or other devices for a year or two past their supposed end date, you can amortize the carbon you are responsible for by those years—effectively reducing the overall cost of what you’ve extracted from the planet in owning your devices.
This is significant especially when you think about how un-recyclable most of our electronic devices really are. Just a percentage of the materials in your electronics can be reclaimed. Many of those toxins are mixed or cost too much to separate to make 100% recycling feasible. Only reuse can make those devices less “costly.”
So, next time you’re looking to upgrade or retire a device, take into account the total cost you’re making. You might look at ownership a little differently when you see what big shoes you’re having to fill.