Eco-friendly mobile phones
Carbon footprints, cradle to grave, eco-friendly. They're all terms we're familiar with, but what are they and how do they apply to the world of mobile phones. Well, in this article, we'll be discussing the future of mobile phones and how designers and manufacturers are keeping one eye on the future to ensure we all enjoy mobile technology for decades to come. This is quite a large subject that we'll explore thoroughly, so we're going to break this up into two parts. You can read part two of this article here
With the planet's resources getting scarcer but the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere seemingly on the rise, our electronic devices are going to need to change. UK laws such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) laws have already restricted the amount of nasty chemicals and compounds manufacturers are allowed to use within your mobile. Lead, for instance barely gets a mention in today's modern smartphones. Many manufacturers claim to go above and beyond these restrictions and have their own environmental policies that have their own classifications of harmful chemicals. It has been established that the manufacturing of a single mobile phone can create upto 75kg of waste.
So what else can manufacturers do to make your phone a bit greener? Well, it would seem that anywhere between 40%-80% of your phone's carbon footprint occurs during the actual life of your phone – ie, when you're using it. The rest is made up of additional concerns such as manufacturing, transport and recycling. Normal phone usage carbon footprints are primarily caused by charging your phone or if you need a new screen or battery. There are manufacturing processes that release many tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to create the screen and battery.
But, by far the most energy of your actual phone usage is consumed whilst charging your phone. A couple of years ago, manufacturer Samsung released a mobile phone that had solar panels on it to recharge via sunlight rather than national grid. This was a noble attempt to kick-start a green investigation on our mobile phone's power consumption. Unfortunately, these solar-powered mobile phones never really took off. Maybe the manufacturing costs were too much or the phone too expensive for today's current pricing expectations.
A smarter way, perhaps, to charge your mobile phone is to put the solar panels into the charging device rather than your mobile phone. At least this way, even if you upgrade your device, you don't have to throw away all those expensive solar panels too. Hopefully, your new phone's power jack will fit your solar charger's adapter. You can pick up decent solar chargers from Amazon quite cheaply (sub £50) with plenty of adapters so you can rest assured it will fit into your mobile phone.
Whilst most phones these days are powered by potent Lithium-ion batteries and have much greater efficiencies, this is quite often cancelled out by the more capable features of newer smartphones. Also, the hardware of your average mobile phone is much more impressive with many boasting dual core processors, larger screens and larger memory capacities. These days, phones are packed with power-hungry features such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cameras (with flashes) and Near Field Communications (NFC). Many of these features come as "always on" as standard. Luckily, we have rich libraries of software, or apps, at our finger tips. Software such as JuiceDefender on the Android platform and Battery Doctor on the iPhone turns off these features if they haven't been used for a while, thus saving your battery's energy. An additional thing the software gives us on the phone is nice friendly reminders to unplug our chargers after our mobile phones have been charged. Manufacturers have reduced, year on year, the amount of power consumed by chargers on standby and many have successfully reduced standby consumption to 0.35 – 0.1 watts. This sounds like a miniscule amount, but collectively, if everyone left their chargers plugged in whilst not charging any devices, this soon adds up and then some. Other ways to save energy during the life of our mobile phones is by reducing the screen brightness and by doing so we can save 15% of the battery life.
So this is the current state of play regarding current mobile phone environmental technologies. In part 2, here, we discuss the future and additional environmental issues related to mobile phone ownership.