Smartphones have a huge carbon footprint. A recent study found that the energy consumption of a smartphone will be more than desktops and laptops by 2020. The problem isn’t in the energy they use — 85% of a smartphone’s emissions impact comes from production, and the precious metal used in their hardware is mined at high energy costs. Add in the energy from the data centers they rely on to send text messages and stream videos and that sliver of glass and plastic in your hand could have a major impact on the environment.
Cell phone providers and manufacturers encourage us to upgrade our devices every year or two, and we often trade in perfectly good phones to have the latest and greatest model. In reality, most smartphones can last five or six years with proper care.
While there are plenty of options for recycling smartphones, the best way to limit their impact is through reuse. You can donate them to charity or sell them, but the smartest thing to do is to hang on to them and get as much use as possible before recycling. How can you reuse your old phone? Consider the following three options.
Use it as a backup
When you get a new phone, keep your old one as a backup. While you might get some money off your new device if you trade in the old one, having a backup in case you lose or damage your phone can be useful. An extra also means you won't need to pay insurance for your new phone, which can cut down on your monthly bill. Most carriers will let you keep it on your plan for just a monthly line fee — or in some cases, no fee at all — and add data only when you need it.
Pass it on to your partner or family member
If you share a plan with your spouse or a family member, consider getting on a staggered “upgrade cycle.” When it’s time to get a new phone, the old one gets passed on to the user who is not upgrading. That person’s phone then becomes a backup or can be passed on to a grandparent or family member whose high-tech needs are low. This cycle of reusing old phones keeps them in use and out of the recycling stream for longer and also helps reduce the need to manufacture new ones.
Give it to your child
At some point, your child is going to want or need a smartphone. Putting a phone worth hundreds of dollars into a preteen’s hands can be a scary prospect, but giving them an older device offers several benefits:
1. You know exactly how to use it, so set up will be easy.
2. If they break or lose it, you’re not out a fortune.
3. Adding a second or third line to your cell phone plan isn’t as expensive as you might think.
Most cellular providers offer family plans. Some don’t charge anything to add a line, so you pay only for the data your child uses. If you don’t want them to use data and just want the phone to be a device they can text and call you on, adding it to your plan can be very inexpensive, or even free.
Ultimately, keeping your smartphone and using it for as long as possible is the greenest, most responsible way to use these devices. It’s beneficial to you, your family and the planet.
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy is a freelance writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. She writes about the smart home, mobile phone technology, consumer tech, small businesses, and green living for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications.
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