First published July 2020
It seems impossible to believe that in 2012, just eight years ago – the year of the Olympics, the year of the smoking ban, the year that BoJo became London mayor – most of us didn’t yet have a smartphone. How did we muddle through without Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at our fingertips? How did we ever find our way anywhere without Google Maps to tell us which way was up? How did we cope without emails constantly barraging our consciousness?
Well, probably a lot better in many ways, but that’s a whole different blog for a whole different day. Smartphones are here now, and the chances are, they’re here to stay.
While smartphones might make us more connected and more able to cheat at pub quizzes whenever we like, they are not without their environmental costs. Mining the precious metals and rare materials that make the chip and motherboard for smartphones is pretty carbon-heavy; and if we’re changing phone every two years, this is a process that is repeated again and again.
Given that most of us have – and feel we need – smartphones, how can we try to neutralise some of the damage they do? Here are three simple steps we can all take to be greener smartphone owners.
• Upgrade less often
Keeping your smartphone for even three years instead of two makes a big difference as it means no-one has to mine for those new materials. I've done this a few times now - it tends to mean deleting some of those photos (honestly, are you ever going to look at them again?) and getting rid of the apps you don't use, but if you do those things, you should be able to get a bit more use of out your handset than the typical two years.
• Buy second hand when you do upgrade
There are plenty of good sellers offering refurbished second-hand phones on eBay; just check the seller’s reviews before you buy. Or visit your local branch of CEX, where you will always find a selection of second hand phones for sale. As with all ‘stuff’, second hand is better as it means fewer resources are used and less once treasured items are thrown into landfill. I bought my most recent handset from eBay and it's working like a dream.
• Get an Ecotalk SIM card
Ecotalk are a company who offer well-priced mobile phone deals with a green outcome. They use the money they make from their customers to buy land and give it back to nature. In this way, they are providing urgently needed homes for bees, meaning that you are giving something back to nature as you make calls and texts. Getting an Ecotalk SIM is a simple process which only takes a few days. I've had my Ecotalk contract for nearly a year now. They don't yet support Wi-Fi calling, so if you live in a poor reception area and rely on Wi-Fi, that is something to bear in mind. However, aside from that, I've had no problems with them at all. Their customer service is excellent and the deals are good value.
Have you got any more tips for how to be a (slightly more!) responsible smartphone owner? If so, post them in the comment box below.
Did you know: Smartphones are more damaging to the environment than computers, laptops, monitors and servers, as demonstrated by the fact that that ICT (Information and Communication Technology) represented just 1% of the carbon footprint in 2007 and, according to the researchers, will top 14% by 2040.
Photo by Dmitrii Vaccinium on Unsplash
I was dimly aware that all the traffic jams I was part of were bad for more reasons than just my blood pressure, but with miles rolling away beneath me, the sun coming in through the windows and pop music pounding on the stereo, I kept telling myself that this was my only option. My brave neighbour cycled to work every day, but given that I hadn’t been on a bike in 15 years and even my Renault Clio could barely make it up Broadoak Hill, I quickly dismissed that as madness and kept on truckin’, although the guilt about my emissions kept creeping up.
When I moved to Fishponds in 2019 and became properly engaged with just how bad the climate crisis really is, I knew I couldn’t put off the evil
moment anymore. So, filled with a certainty that
I’d be smashed to smithereens under a truck before
the week was out – or, more likely, die of a stitch by
the end of the day – I got myself down to Bool’s Bikes on Staple Hill and, after being helped by some
truly lovely staff members, bought myself a
purple hydrid. I named her Greta. Because
why wouldn’t I?
Photo by Joline Torres on Unsplash
Rather than being the trial I feared, I fell in love with cycling pretty damn quickly. Zipping past the traffic, flying down hills, taking in the ever-changing graffiti – it’s all pretty awesome. Living right near the Bristol and Bath Railway Path helped. You do have to contend with all those terribly important men wearing Lycra who are in a Very Big Rush to get past you. That can be a bit unnerving at first, but you get used to it. And the certainty of knowing that you will arrive at your destination at the right time, rather than having to allow an extra half an hour ‘just in case’ makes it all worth it.
The hills are hard, I’m not gonna lie. But the warm glow of knowing you’re doing good for the planet while also earning yourself some extra cake-calories when you get home make it easier. And if the hills are too much for you, you could always get an electric bike for that bit of extra help.
If you live in Bristol and are nervous about making that all-important switch from car to bike, you might be interested to know that Life Cycle UK does lessons for adults who are new to cycling, making it that bit easier get started. If you live in the South West, have a look at this map to find a bike shop near you.
Let us know how you get on in the comment box below.
Did you know… Bikes aren’t entirely carbon-footprint-free as they do need to be made. However, riding a bike contributes 10 times LESS carbon to the atmosphere than driving.