Smartphones

Smartphones

Smartphones have only been a mainstream consumer product for a decade, but the impact they already have on the environment, from production all the way to their disposal, is alarming.  

Electronic manufacturing is incredibly energy and resource intensive. It is estimated that three quarters of the total CO2 emissions for smartphones are released in the production phase. Adding insult to injury, smartphones are made using mining minerals, rare earth elements, conflict minerals, toxic materials (including heavy metals, bisphenol-A and flame retardants) and plastics that all result in pollution and critical resource stress.

Over seven billion smartphones have been manufactured worldwide since 2007. While part of the increasing rate of smartphone sales is caused by first-time buyers, approximately 78% is made up of existing smartphone consumers replacing their phones.

The smartphone market today is characterised by a premature obsolescence trend caused notably by:

  • Durability issues: e.g. screens break easily and battery performance is not maintained. These key components are not easily replaceable
  • Repairability issues: a 2016 UK consumer study showed that half of people who needed to, have not repaired their phones due to high costs
  • Software availability issues: phones that cannot upgrade their software are more likely to be replaced by a new one

WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN UNION DOING? 

With the Ecodesign Directive now focusing on resource efficiency, electronic products have been identified for their savings potential. The huge potential of smartphones landed this product group in the Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019. The European Commission wants to first launch a separate study on smartphones together with two other ICT products (gateways, and base stations) to assess their saving potentials from design stage onwards, to see if Ecodesign is the right tool for this.

These products are also covered by other pieces of EU legislations, such as RoHS (restricting use of hazardous substances) and WEEE (covering the end-of-life of electronic waste). But none of them address the durability, reparability and upgradability of smartphones.

WHAT DOES THE COOLPRODUCTS CAMPAIGN WANT?

  • Regulate smartphones through Ecodesign and Energy Labelling by 2021 at the latest. The separate study on the three ICT products should not be an excuse to delay the process any further.
  • Enforce Ecodesign requirements that help smartphones to be more durable, repairable, and recyclable. This can be done by for example ensuring access to key components like the battery, resistance to shocks and spilling, and making software updates and spare parts available for a minimum time.
  • Give smartphones an Energy Label.  This could help promote better products also from a resource perspective, by indicating a repair rating or a free warranty period, and further spurring competition between manufacturers on these aspects.  

COOLPRODUCT TECHNICAL INPUT AND POSITION PAPERS:

2015 - A Vibrant Ecodesign Working Plan: cornerstone to the EU’s energy and resource efficiency strategy

Useful Links:

2017 - Greenpeace, From smart to senseless: The global impact of 10 years of Smartphones

2016 - Green Alliance, Better products by design: ensuring high standards for UK consumers

2015 - Green Alliance, A Circular Economy for Smart Devices