Don’t sweat it – Has Apple got it right?
At the launch of the latest iPhone XS, Apple’s VP Lisa Jackson made headlines by saying that the best thing you can do for the environment is not buy the new iPhone, but hold on to your old device for as long as possible.
Jackson was, of course, on the right tracks. Each year the electronics industry produces, sells and disposes billions of devices, but struggles with the clean-up. E-waste is one of the fastest growing global waste streams: in 2016, we generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste – the equivalent of 4500 Eiffel towers.
As up to 80% of a smartphone’s greenhouse gases are formed during the manufacturing phase, it’s logical to first focus on production. With most of the industry’s production plants still powered by coal, there’s definitely room for renewal.
However, while it’s important to develop more energy-efficient ways of production, a simpler way to minimise a device’s carbon footprint is to keep it in the loop for as long as possible. According to Apple’s own estimates, an iPhone X produces 79 kg of CO2 over its three-year lifespan. The bulk of this – roughly 63 kg of CO2 – is formed during manufacturing, regardless of how long the phone is used for.
Because manufacturing forms such a significant part of a smartphone’s footprint, once the phone has been produced, it makes sense to try and keep it in use for as long as possible.
Optimise, don’t maximise
So far we’ve been nodding in agreement with Jackson – it’s clear that we need to make better use of our electronic devices. However, asking consumers to hold on to their iPhones for as long as possible is where Apple goes wrong.
Sweating your assets – or pushing them to their breaking point – aims to lengthen lifespan, but often only grows costs and grey hairs. As your devices slow down with age, they start to incur more maintenance and support costs. This is when they should be carefully refurbished and refreshed. If they are instead fully exhausted, driven to the brink of shutdown, they’re often beyond repair – ultimately shortening their lifespan. Only functioning devices are fit for new lives.
Thus, there’s little merit in holding on to your phone for too long. The best thing you can do you for your device is find its optimal age, and once it reaches it, make sure to pass it on for a well-earned refresh.
The best thing Apple can do for your device? Open up such opportunities for recycling and refresh.
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