Smartphones

Smartphones

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

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

Over seven billion smartphones have been manufactured worldwide since 2007, and approximately 78% of this volume caters for existing smartphone consumers replacing their phones very often. The smartphone market is characterised by a premature obsolescence trend caused notably bydurability issues (e.g. screens break easily and battery performance is not maintained), repairability issues (a 2016 UK consumer study showed that half the owners of broken phones did not repair them due to high costs), and software availability issues (phones that cannot upgrade their software are more likely to be replaced by new ones).

WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN UNION DOING? 

With the Ecodesign Directive shifting focus to resource efficiency, electronic products have been identified as priority targets. The huge potential of smartphones landed this product group in the Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019.  

However, despite multiple calls from Coolproducts, the European Commission is still failing to initiate proper legislative work on this product.

WHAT DOES THE COOLPRODUCTS CAMPAIGN WANT?

  • Regulate smartphones, through ecodesign and possibly energy labelling by 2021;

  • Enforce ecodesign requirements that help smartphones to be more durable, repairable, and recyclable; this can be done, for example, by ensuring access to key components such as batteries, resistance to shocks and spilling, and making software updates and spare parts available for a minimum period of time;

  • Give smartphones an energy label; this could help promote better products, notably from a resource efficiency perspective, by indicating a repairability score and the free warranty period, and further spurring competition between manufacturers on these aspects.

Coolproducts 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