Mobile phone

Action: Keep your mobile phone for an extra year

The problem

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on it, but many sources estimate the number of mobile phones in use around the world at around 5 billion. Given the world population is around 8 billion, that sounds pretty credible to us.

Many of these are bought on contract arrangements that encourage people to “upgrade” every 12 or 24 months. This appeals to us of course – as consumers we like to have the latest and coolest gadgets – but the way phones are marketed is purely driven by profits; if we buy a new phone every 24 months the sales staff and manufacturers will always be happy!

However, in the vast majority of cases we don’t really need to have the latest model of phone. Our action for you is to think about keeping your phone for another year once the contract is finished. Or maybe even longer!

One year extra is well within the expected life of modern phones – batteries can be expected to last five years for example. Changing a phone every three years instead of every two will reduce the number of phones that need to be manufactured, and the number of phones that are discarded (whether recycled properly or not). Both of these things would be good for our environment.

And there are many other advantages to retaining your mobile phone for an extra 12 months too, read on.

Phone manufacture and the environment

  • the vast majority (85%) of the carbon footprint of a mobile phone is in its manufacture, not its use
  • the chip and motherboard are especially damaging, as they contain rare metals mined at great cost
  • plastics and other materials used for the casing use fossil fuels and energy-demanding processes
  • irreplaceable and expensive resources such as gold, cobalt and lithium are used to make your phone
  • 16 of the 17 rare earth metals are used in a phone
  • mining, refining and transporting these materials generates carbon emissions
  • these mining processes destroy ecosystems and the tailings poison soil and watercourses

Phone disposal and the environment

  • worldwide it is estimated that less than 15% of used phones are properly recycled
  • the plastic, rare earth elements, and other materials poison the environment and landfill
  • proper recycling has the potential to recover the rare elements, but this is not happening much, and is expensive
  • many plastics used are not recyclable or cannot be separated viably
  • batteries are difficult, expensive and dangerous to dispose of
  • many old phones are just being stored, building up a big problem for future disposal

Other advantages of delaying your upgrade by 12 months

  • extending the life of your phone has direct environmental benefits addressing the above points
  • you will save hugely on your phone contract costs, for example…
Mobile phone

A true story from the author: My own iPhone 6 contract with EE came to an end. The contract had run for two years and cost £45 each month. I was, of course, offered a new iPhone at a similar price, a higher specification although not the very latest model. Instead of upgrading I chose to switch to a SIM-only deal and keep the iPhone 6, which I now own because the contract period is complete. EE offered me the same data, text and calls package for £9 per month, a saving of £36 per month. By delaying replacing my phone – which is perfectly adequate for my use – for 12 months, I therefore saved a massive £432. My wife’s phone was on exactly the same deal and contract term, and again we chose not to replace it. This is a total saving of £864 (over$1,000 USD).

  • you will be free to switch to any other service provider
  • no hassle or problems transferring data and apps to a new phone
  • you are comfortable and familiar with the phone you are using
  • no contract term – you can still replace your phone or change service at any time
  • there is every chance that you will continue beyond the extra year because (1) you will be able to save more money (2) you will find your phone perfectly adequate and (3) the lifetime of phone and battery should comfortably run to five years or more.

Take action

This action is green and could save you hundreds of pounds, dollars or euros too, so why wouldn’t you!

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below, and thank you for your support.

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