The Energy Impact of Mobile Phones

Often when we think about climate change, the main carbon emissions that we think of are made by heavy industrial industries like transportation, mining, and petroleum. Rarely do we consider the impact that computer technology has on the environment.

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The bad news is that the cyber-world of information and computer technology is harming the environment. Devices like laptops, PCs, smartphones, monitors and tablets and infrastructures like communication networks and data centres currently have a global footprint of 3.5%. And this is not all – this figure is expected to increase to 14% by 2040.

So, why do mobile phones and other electronic devices have such an impact on the environment? Keep reading below to find out more:

The Impact of Smartphones

Research has shown that smartphones have a much higher energy impact on the environment than any other ICT device. And this impact is only expected to increase over the next few years.

The main cause of this footprint is not because of how the device is used, but rather how it is produced. This includes the energy for material mining, as well as smartphone manufacturing energy. Another guilty participant in this huge carbon footprint is the phone plans that encourage smartphone users to upgrade their mobile devices every couple of years. This speeds up the rate at which older mobile phones become obsolete and leads to an extraordinary amount of waste.

Instead of purchasing a new phone every couple of years, smartphone users should consider keeping their mobile device until it is broken or selling it to someone who will use it. They should also consider purchasing a SIM-only card so that they are not tied into contracts that will advise them to upgrade their mobile devices once the contract ends. There are lots of SIM-only deals for users to choose from. Lebara offers SIM-only plans that are perfect for people who do not want to get tied into a contract. Not only do they offer a reliable and fast 4G network, but they also allow their customers to cancel or change their plans at any time.

Software Companies Spur Growth

One of the most ironic aspects is that software companies are driving the overall growth in ICT as a whole, infrastructure and devices included.

Software companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo have some of the biggest data centres in the world. The increase in the dominance of mobile operating systems, mainly Google’s Android and Apple’s IOS, as well as the millions of smartphone applications that are built for these platforms, has started a mobile communication age.

The amazing – and unsustainable – growth in the emissions footprint is there for only one purpose: to serve and support the software universe. This means that although hardware does much of the work, it is software that is calling the shots.

But how do we overcome this issue? To overcome this issue, society needs to demand that all data centres run on renewable energy. Another way we can overcome this issue is if smartphone users hold on to their mobile devices for as long as possible, and when they upgrade their device, they remember to recycle their old one. Unfortunately, research has shown that only 1% of smartphones are being recycled at present.

Texts Emails and Downloads Use Energy

Although we do not know the full effect of mobile phones on the environment, evidence suggests that the combined footprint of communications networks and data centres is huge, with data centres accounting for almost two thirds of this. In fact, it is believed that the combined footprint of communications networks and data centres is currently 764 megatons of Co2.

If we compare this to the entire carbon footprint for a country like Canada, which is 730 megatons of Co2, then you can see why this could be an issue.

The growth in data centres and the growth in smartphones are not unrelated. It is the fast growth in mobile communications that is driving the pace for data centres. For every video download, text message, photo exchange, chat or email, there is a power server working 24/7 in some data centre that is making this happen. This is the energy consumption that many of us overlook.

Battery Drain in Smartphones is a Huge Problem

Modern smartphones are indispensable for many people. Battery capacity has, however, struggled to keep pace with the speed at which smartphones have advanced in recent years, which has led to the need for users to discard and replace their mobile devices frequently. This can be harmful to the environment as it leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to poor reuse and disposal practices among phone users.

The factors that most affect battery drain and energy consumption in smartphones are believed to be:

  • The device specification
  • The network
  • The way the smartphone user uses their mobile device – research has shown that user habits impact energy consumption in smartphones more substantially than other factors
  • The applications installed on the device

To overcome this issue, smartphone owners need to learn how to use their smartphones in a more energy-efficient way and smartphone manufacturers need to find ways to develop their device designs in keeping with green code. Further research is also needed to work out the impact of each of these factors on smartphone battery drain.

Smartphone Manufacturing

It is agreed by many researchers that the main energy impact of mobile phones comes during the manufacturing and distribution of the device. Research suggests that up to 90% of the total emissions originate from these two things. This is a huge proportion of the overall impact of mobile devices.

Research suggests that the manufacturing emissions of a smartphone are approximately 40kg-80kg of Co2-e. Of course, this will depend on the type of mobile device, as all devices are slightly different, but the evidence shows an increasing Co2-e of each shipped mobile device.

As we have mentioned above, one way to overcome this issue is to use renewable energy during the manufacturing process. Mobile phone producers could also consider using hybrid or electric vehicles to distribute their mobile devices. This can help to reduce the impact on the environment.

Mining

There are more than 60 different elements included in a smartphone. Each of these elements contributes to a whole host of environmental and socio-economic effects coming from the places in which they are mined.

Over the last few years, the demand for smartphone components has increased considerably. Not just because of smartphone ownership, but also because people are updating their phones more often. This has led to an increase in demand for rare raw materials and earth elements.

There is no doubt that mining precious materials also displaces huge amounts of rock in the process. In fact, research suggests that to remove 100g of needed materials, 34kg of rock must be mined. If we consider that millions of phones are being made each year, the amount of damage being caused is huge.

Over the last few years, mobile smart devices have become an essential part of daily life. Smartphones can do a range of useful jobs. As well as making calls, they can also be used to run useful applications, share and create multimedia files, and for data processing. However, there is a downside to these devices. Electronic devices can harm the environment. While statistics for the carbon footprint of mobile phones are hard to find, there is evidence that mobile devices already have a carbon footprint of 4%, which is likely to increase over the next few years. Mobile phone producers and consumers need to work in partnership to try and reduce the carbon footprint of mobile phones. They can do this by recycling old mobiles and building more environmentally friendly phones.

This is a promoted article.

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