Upgrading Your Phone Every Year Is Not Good For The Planet

Phone Pollution

By Anthony McLennan / Truth Theory

How many of you out there eagerly anticipate the end of the your phone contract, knowing an upgrade is on the way?

Especially for those on contracts, the ability to upgrade your phone every year or two, depending on the contract details, is almost like Christmas.

Because you’re paying it off in installments, (by paying your cellphone bill every month), it almost feels like you’re getting a free handset.

But do the calculations, and you’re not really getting anything for ‘free’, it’s just made to feel that way.

Others meanwhile, those that can afford to, and sometimes even those that don’t really have the means for it, don’t even wait for their contracts to expire. When the latest, ‘high-spec’ phone comes out, with all the associated marketing bells and whistles, they simply ‘have’ to have it.

In today’s celebrity / social media-influencer world, it’s all about keeping up appearances. Those little numbers or digits which brands use to label their products so unimaginatively, become all-important.

It’s just not cool to have an iPhone 8 when your friends have the iPhone 10. But then before you know it, the iPhone 12 is out. But you probably rather want the pro max version of the 12. It’s pretty much the same story with the other phone brands. (Not to mention other electronic products as well as fashion or sports brands and the like).

We are all, especially the under-30 crowd, too easily influenced by marketing gimmicks. We are continuously suckered into spending on things we don’t need.

Of course there are occasionally breakthrough products which introduce genuinely useful new technology.
But in most cases, there’s really not that much difference in a phone made in 2017 or 2020. Your old smartphone is probably fine. I’m still more than happy with my 2015 Huawei P8 lite for example. The phone runs smoothly with all my apps and takes decent enough photos. If I want really high quality images then I use my DSLR camera.

Ten million phones discarded each month – in Europe alone

It’s not just a case of trying not to be materialistic. It’s because the Earth is running out of the raw materials which are needed to manufacture cellphones.

Another issue is the huge amount of electronics devices which are simply thrown into the trash instead of being recycled. In the European Union alone, approximately 10 million smartphones are thrown away or replaced every month.

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But back to the issue of raw material. You may not know that everything we manufacture is made up of only 90 naturally occurring chemical elements.

new periodic table

According to one report, a typical iPhone contains several valuable metals: 0.034g of gold, 0.34g of silver, 0.015g of palladium and less than one-thousandth of a gram of platinum as well as aluminium (25g) and copper (around 15g).

Lithium and cobalt are used in batteries while extremely rare materials such as yttrium, terbium and dysprosium are used in screen displays.

The human cost of phone manufacturing

Scientists are predicting that some of these elements will simply run out in the next 100 years. And the rarer the get, the greater the likelihood there is for these materials to become ‘conflict minerals’.

An example of this has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where child or slave labour has been used, and where profits have been diverted to finance wars.

These are the sort of things we should be thinking about when it comes to upgrading one’s phone simply for the sake of upgrading or because you’re feeling peer pressure to keep up with your friends or colleagues.


Image credit (Periodic Table): European Chemical Society


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