The Carbon Footprint of the Top 10 Cellphones

An insight into which cell phones have the biggest environmental impact, and which are kindest to the planet.

Let’s face it: it’s almost impossible to live in modern society without a mobile phone, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice eco credentials in the pursuit of the latest cell phone model.

If you want to factor sustainability into your choice of a new phone, read on to find out the carbon footprint of ten of the most popular cellphone models currently on the market.

Phone

Total product life cycle carbon footprint (kg CO2e)

iPhone 13 Pro Max

74

iPhone 13 Pro Max 1TB

117

iPhone 12 256GB

85

iPhone SE

57

Google Pixel 5A with 5G

60

Google Pixel 6 Pro

95

Google Pixel 6

85

Huawei HONOR 10 Dual SIM 4GB+64GB

62.9

Huawei Mate40 Pro + Dual SIM 12GB+512GB

86.3

Huawei Mate40 Pro Dual SIM 8GB+512GB

84.6

Our phones are rarely far from our hands, whether we’re using them to scroll social media, reply to work emails, or message friends. But this commonplace digital device has a serious environmental impact, as seen in our table of emissions.

To understand the carbon emissions of a mobile phone, it’s vital to look at its life cycle from start to finish. Let’s dive in.

How do cellphones contribute to climate change?

Source

From the manufacturing process of smartphones to how they’re disposed of at the end of their life cycles, carbon emissions are produced. This applies whether the phone is an Apple iPhone or an Android model, but carbon emissions do differ from phone to phone.

Here’s how each stage of smartphone use creates emissions, and how you can reduce yours.

Manufacturing emissions

The majority of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cell phone use come from production, which begins before the mobile phone ever reaches your hand.

The majority of phones are created in factories, which are notorious for producing co2 emissions because they use lots of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels.

Then there’s the harmful materials used in the production of the phones. Mobile phones can contain toxic metals such as lithium, which are often sourced using murky means. These raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce, meaning phone producers are having to dig further into the ground to access them.

Plus, once the phone has been created, companies must ship it to consumers, which has a whole carbon footprint of its own – especially depending on the transport method used.

Smartphone use emissions

Once the phone has been manufactured and reached your hand, the emissions end there, right? Unfortunately not.

The growth of mobile communications in the form of social media interactions, texts, and emails has led to the creation of more power-hungry data centers.

For every notification that pings your phone, there’s a data center somewhere using electricity (probably from fossil fuels) that makes it happen.

And it’s not just communication networks. Charging your phone consumes energy, and when you consider the frequency with which you do it – with some people charging multiple times day – that adds up to a lot of electricity.

End-of-life emissions

Whether you drop it into a body of water or simply wake up one day to the dreaded blank screen, mobile phones fail for a multitude of reasons. But what happens if you throw your broken phone into the pile of rubbish in your bin?

Unlike biodegradable waste, phone’s don’t decompose, so if your phone ends up in landfill it will simply sit there for decades, potentially leaking harmful toxins into the environment. These are known as end-of-life emissions.

How to reduce the climate impact of your smartphone

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are simple ways you can reduce your phone’s carbon footprint that don’t cost a penny.

  • Choose an eco-friendly model. If you’re not sure which phones are better for the planet, consult our handy table.
  • Keep devices for longer. Instead of switching to the newest model every year, keep the same mobile phone for its entire lifespan until it breaks or your lifestyle requires the functionality of a new one.
  • Opt for a refurbished phone. Many mobile phone giants, including Apple, now offer refurbished phones. The best part? They’re usually cheaper, so it’s a win for your pocket and the planet.
  • Recycle your phone. If you must get rid of your phone, dispose of it using sustainable methods, such as recycling it with the original retailer. Under no circumstances should you throw your device into the landfill.
  • Only charge when necessary. We’re all guilty of leaving our phones plugged in overnight even for hours after the battery reaches 100%. To reduce the energy consumption associated with your device, only charge it when necessary, and unplug it when fully charged.
  • Opt for WiFi. Using WiFi reduces energy consumption compared to scrolling and streaming using 4G and 5G.

What are companies doing to help?

There are many policies companies can implement to reduce the environmental impact of mobile phones, such as using renewable energy in factories and creating phone recycling schemes to reduce e-waste.

Apple is leading the way in sustainability by recycling raw materials from old phones to create new ones, removing the need to dig new precious materials out of the ground. The tech giant is also using 75% less plastic in its packaging and making phones more durable for longer use.

If you’re passionate about reducing the global emissions of phones, write to your phone provider of choice and let them know your thoughts. The more pressure consumers put on big corporations to become more sustainable, the more likely they’ll be to priotitize the environment in their strategy.

Got a question?

Measuring is one thing, driving action is what we really need, integrating DitchCarbon into our operations has enabled a key shift in behaviour
Sarah Wilson, Procurement Practitioner

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