Smartphones are great, aren’t they? 

In 2019, pretty much everyone is in love with the little slab of glass and metal living in their pocket. These devices, which help us stay in touch with friends and family, can be pretty addictive. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see people walk into lamp posts or fall down holes in the ground while updating their Facebook status. 

But we’re not just addicted to using our phones. We’re also addicted to buying the shiniest, latest models. In 2018 alone, consumers went out and bought over 1.5 billion new devices. Buying a new phone can be several times more expensive than picking up a refurbished phone that works just as well. Consumer preferences for the newest devices aren’t just killing our wallets though, they’re also tearing our planet apart

Renewed and refurbished iPhones are much more environmentally friendly. In this article, the Hulii team breaks down the reasons buying new is unsustainable and why renewed devices are more environmentally friendly.

Every Step of the Smartphone Lifecycle has an Impact

The hard truth about our modern smartphones is that all parts of their existence are associated with some form of negative environmental or social effect. As you’re about to find out, the problems begin before a cell is manufactured and continue long after it’s been thrown out to be replaced by a newer version.

Extracting Precious Metals for Smartphones: It’s Bad.

Every new smartphone contains electronics manufactured from hard-to-extract precious metals. Buying new increases the demand for these, encouraging companies to damage the environment by mining more intensively.

The average iPhone contains nearly 0.08g of gold and silver, 0.015g of palladium as well as traces of rare Earth elements like yttrium. Those amounts might sound small, but it all adds up. We calculate over two tonnes of gold was used in the manufacture of new iPhones in just the third quarter of 2018. That level of demand is encouraging companies to open new mines across the world.

What are the environmental consequences of this mining? For starters, it destroys animal habitats and makes endangered species more likely to go extinct. Even little things like dumping rocks from mines in surrounding areas can have a big impact on local biodiversity. 

And those are only the direct impacts of starting a mine. The mining process itself also generates huge quantities of waste laden with heavy metals which are toxic to human as well as plant and animal life.

Small Phones, Big Carbon Footprints

But mining impacts are just the beginning of the story of new smartphone unsustainability. 

A huge amount of energy is also required to build a new phone. In fact, the same energy used to manufacture a device could keep a phone charged for an entire decade, even with regular use. 

The information and technology sector is now responsible for half as much carbon pollution as the global transport industry, in part because so much energy goes into producing smartphones. Refurbishing a phone requires only a tiny amount of energy compared to building a new one, so buying renewed can take the heavy burden of carbon guilt off of your shoulders!

Toxic Phone Waste

Since the original iPhone was released in 2007, approximately 1.2 billion have been sold worldwide. As we only use our phones for an average of two years, that means a huge number of devices are entering the 50 million tonnes per annum global e-waste stream.

It’s a challenge just to find somewhere to put all of these thrown-out devices. But more importantly, compared to regular household garbage, electronic waste causes some seriously ugly environmental impacts.

Lead from cell components in landfill disposals, for example, ends up in local water sources. When it enters the body of people in the area, lead sticks around in their bones, causing damage to the immune system and leading to learning difficulties in young children. And lead is just one of at least 9 different toxic metals found in almost every smartphone.

Whenever you buy an iPhone 7 refurbished, that’s one more phone saved from a landfill and another iPhone full of toxic chemicals that aren’t being leaked into your local environment.

‘Green’ Phones Can’t Solve These Problems

Over the past few years, a handful of green devices have appeared in the mobile handset marketplace. These devices are generally manufactured using recycled materials and built using less energy-intensive processes.

However, these phones tend to be underwhelming when it comes to features and performance. And, even though buying a new ‘green’ phone does less harm to the environment than buying a new flagship device, it still causes more of an impact than simply restoring a used device.

Purchasing refurbished, therefore, remains the most environmentally-conscious option and has the advantage of preserving your access to high-spec phones with the latest and greatest features.

Buy Refurbished, Save the Planet

Given the serious environmental impacts associated with manufacturing or disposing of a cell phone, buying new simply isn’t an option for anyone trying to lead an eco-friendly existence. Fortunately, refreshed devices like those you can buy through Hulii are a great solution.

Purchasing a second hand iPhone 7 causes a minuscule amount of environmental damage compared to picking up a new device. And there’s really no downside to doing so — our ‘Excellent’ condition devices are impossible to distinguish from their brand-new counterparts. Also, every phone we sell is professionally certified and arrives with a 6-month warranty. 

At the moment, only around 10% of used smartphones get refurbished. At Hulii, we’re trying to change that with restored cheap mobile phones that you can trust.