iPhone 12 release highlights desire for green smartphones

Like clockwork, you can expect Apple to release a new smartphone at the same time each year. But at what cost and how can our usage of smartphones become greener?

One of the luxuries of the modern age is the apparent disposability of electronic devices such as computers and smartphones. Apple has a reputation for perpetuating this feeling of disposability. Each autumn, there’s always a new iPhone to buy.

iPhone 12, due for release today, is Apple’s attempt to rectify old errors. Not only does Apple wish to become a carbon-neutral company by 2030. Apple claims the new iPhone 12 will be released without a charger and EarPods. The reasoning behind this is that Apple claims they can ship 70 per cent more boxes per pallet. In turn, this would mean less shipping, cutting two millionmetric tons of carbon per year – equivalent to 450,000 fewer cars on the road annually.

Apple’s good intentions are one thing, but at least 7 billion smartphones were made between 2007-17,
according to Greenpace. Each one was made to be used and eventually disposed of after a few short years. Over time, this adds up.

Smartphone manufacture is resource-intensive

Rare earth elements are crucial in the manufacture of modern smartphones. As their name suggests, there aren’t a vast amount of them to be found in the Earth’s crust. These elements are often chosen for smartphones for their inherent magnetic and electrochemical properties.

All of those 7 billion smartphones had to come from somewhere, and mining these materials is intensive.
Rare earth elements are easier to find than precious metals like gold or platinum. However, they often occur naturally in compounds. In order to be used in their purest forms, manufacturers require them to be refined, often at great expense. The mining and refining are enough of an issue as it is.

But how do we break the cycle of constant mining, manufacture, use and disposal?

Consumers find ways to break the cycle

Fortunately, consumers have already started getting wise to outlets which offer more sustainable alternatives to the mass-produced smartphones on the market. Many of the materials used in smartphones are recyclable too. This means that just because your phone is busted, you don’t have to throw it into landfill.

We already know that British consumers have a preference for planet-protecting tech compared to the latest flashy upgrade. If you’re UK-based, you can use this government portal to find the nearest place where you can recycle your old phone today.

It can be tricky to break out of the cycle of disposability, when smartphones are so important in our day-to-day lives. That’s why companies such as Fairphone provide smartphones built to last longer than conventional models.
The company produces smartphones designed for modular upgrading, using materials that are easier to recycle. Most importantly, the likes of Fairphone are aiming to improve job satisfaction for the people employed to make the smartphones. The places phones come from matter just as much as what happens to the phones when they are of no further use to us.

Smartphone juggernauts such as Apple have faced accusations of allowing supplier factories to violate labour laws in China. Moving forward, smartphone providers are under increased pressure to get smart and make sure that not only are they producing environmentally-friendly products for their consumers. They also need to guarantee the well being of the people who actually make the phones to start with.

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