We in the real world swap our mobile phones every two years. New models are on offer and we see new ones in the shops, so lets change and upgrade. But here’s the thing! Our fictional hero James Bond has saved the earth and mankind from almost certain destruction and evil doers time and time again, packing his signature weapon the Walther PPK, it has been the trusty side-kick to the suave M16 secret service agent for 55 years and served him well.
Why can’t we take a note out of his spy book and hold onto things a little longer? In our post-modern world, consumption plays an influential role in how we define ourselves. We are what we buy, and once bought and we throw it away. We are surrounded by endless disposable items, goods, and gadgets along with any amount of white goods and as for mobile phones.
Mobile phones are such an essential item to our lives, yet it feels as though every five minutes we’re encouraged to change them. I understand that back in the day you needed to change your mobile, remember the first ones? They cost nearly £2000, weighed as much as a small van, you could only talk for 30 minutes within the M25 and they took 10 hours to charge up.
But mobile phones have come a long way since. The technology needed us to join in the pain of early development for it to recover the costs of design, marketing, legal, pay back investors, take out patents, etc. and thereafter make a profit to then develop the next model.
So, have we not reached a point, where we can just sit back and relax with the present models? Most of us take out a 2-year contract, but we typically upgrade at 20 months, driven by flagship mobile phone designs to beat each year and our own gadget vanity.
The environmental concern is that there are now 7 billion mobile phones on the planet and projections suggest this number could double within the next 10 years. Present day mobiles are stuffed with precious metals: gold, silver, platinum, nickel, palladium, copper, tin and zinc. In fact, there are at least 62 different types of metals in smartphones, 16 of the 17 rare earth metals are included in mobiles.
With such a short life span, coupled with unnecessarily fast product cycles, our mining and manufacturing processes are facing very real environmental consequences. One key problem is that we are holding onto our old mobiles for the same old reasons: maybe your present mobile will break down, or you’ll give it to your kids, or maybe you just throw it away because it’s broken and it will end up in a landfill. Essentially, these are all good ideas but none of them is environmentally helpful, as it is estimated that there are about 76.8 million handsets sitting around in drawers and cupboards in the UK alone.
When I say landfill, E-waste is often disposed of poorly in developing 3rd world countries. Why is that not good? Heavy metal contamination of soil through the poor disposal of mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel can pose serious risks to humans and the ecosystem through direct ingestion, contact with contaminated soil or the food chain.
So, with the proper disposal of these metals, it makes sense to reintroduce them back into the production line. When you consider that for every 1 million mobile phones recycled we could recover the following amounts of precious metals:
- 35,273 pounds of copper
- 772 pounds of silver
- 75 pounds of gold
- 33 pounds of palladium
So, how can you help? There are two things that you can do:
1. Extend the ownership of your mobile phone. The latest mobile phones are beautifully made; buy it a case, a quality screen protector and hold on to it for a year longer. Maybe even two years longer. Experts agree that mobiles could last up to 7 years if looked after well, and this could reduce its CO2 creation by at least 30%. It would certainly help in reducing the number of resources we mine to create new mobile phones.
Is this possible? Yes, it is. Our son is currently using an iPhone 5 that the missus and I have both previously owned. It’s had a new battery, a service and it’s still firing on all cylinders. And it’s now 5 years old.
1,000,000 mobile phones contain 75 pounds of gold
By holding on to your mobile a little longer. You would be instrumental in taking us out of the ”linear” manner of consumption in which we ‘create it, use it, dump it, buy more’; a habit we are all accustomed to. We need to slow down the linear formula.
2. Thereafter, a way of moving further away from the linear model is to reuse materials. If you break your mobile phone have it repaired. Or if it’s beyond repair hand it in at the end of its life-cycle. This would set us on the path of what’s called a “circular economy”, whereby we look to reuse all materials. This would drastically reduce our resource use and the CO2 levels incurred.
When you’re done with your phone, hand it into your service provider or, better still the WWF, or any charity of your choice to reintroduce the materials that would have been lost, back into the system. Will a “circular economy” approach help save us? It’s a new way of doing business, a new way of reusing and recycling and looks toward potentially creating zero waste.
I’m sure Mr Bond would agree that if doing this saves the world, we can live to die another day.