Eco-friendly mobile phones
Welcome to the second part of our look at eco-friendly mobile devices. In part 1 (here), we looked at the current state of play in mobile technology, their green credentials and what we can do to help. In this article, we have a look at the future and what manufacturers can and are doing to help the environment.
Manufacturers are consistently reducing the amount of materials they use in their mobile phones and this trend looks set to continue. By reducing the amount of weight in any electronic device, we decrease the both the carbon footprint of the manufactured component (as less is being made) and the carbon footprint of the transport and delivery of the device. This is because instead of transporting, for example, 200,000 mobile phones in a single air freight delivery, you can now deliver maybe 300,000.
One of the largest and heaviest components in your mobile phone is the battery. Current smartphones use Lithium-Ion batteries. However, in the future, mobile phones may be using newer jelly lithium batteries (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14852073) that are significantly lighter, hold more capacity and appear to be much safer and less volatile than the current generation of batteries. This should go some way to reducing transport costs.
Packaging plays a large part in the eco-friendliness of your mobile device. Your shiny new phone is delivered, and the first thing we do (if you're like me) is to rip open the plastic envelope and open up the new shiny boxed handset without even giving it a second thought. But, the packaging is an important aspect of any new mobile phone. Not only does it present to you the manufacturer's vision of their new product but it protects your new phone during transit, making sure it doesn't turn up on your doorstep sounding like a rattle! It is reckoned by Apple that by reducing their iPhone packaging by 42% they are able to ship 80% more boxes in every shipping container delivered by air freight.
Mobile phone manufacturers are consistently striving to improve their environmental processes and this includes one of the largest components of any mobile device – its housing. Many manufacturers are now turning to recycled plastics to make up it not all, but a significant portion of the phone's housing. Traditional mobile phone plastics are made up of PET, HDPE or PLA injection moulded plastics which are either virgin (manufactured from scratch) or reclaimed from other devices. However, there is an alternative that manufacturers are starting to use and this is bioplastics. These new form of plastics are plant-derived from renewable resources such as corn or soy starch and vegetables fats and oils rather than crude oil. Generating bioplastics is reckoned to be 30% more energy efficient than petroplastics and many of them (depending on manufacturing and source) are biodegradable. Of course, too, they are highly renewable. The only problem with bioplastics is that they are crop-based and compete with food crops and in an increasingly burgeoning population this may not be the total solution to petro-chemical based plastics.
This is all great, but there is one emerging technology that could really make an impact in the world of mobile technology and is the technology de jour. And that technology is Graphene. Graphene is touted as the next technological age. The new technology is has some superb properties that may help reduce the weight and cost of the mobile devices of the future. Graphene is flexible and may be able to replace current rigid LCD screens. Depending on the housing your phone is wrapped in, it may lead to flexible, bendable mobile phones that you can roll or fold up and put in your pocket. Graphene also has fantastic electrical properties and is currently being explored as a replacement for silicon current electronics. It is less power hungry and lighter and should end up being cheaper and more environmentally friendly than current electronic components.
Graphene is a new technology and mass production hasn't begun but its future in electronics is promising. Hopefully (and it looks totally possible by all accounts) we can manufacture this wonder substance cheaply and ecologically which should lead to environmentally sound, light and power friendly mobile devices.
So there we are. Over the two parts of this article, we've explored the current environmental impact and cost of mobile technology along with whatever the future holds too. Some of the information in these articles has come from the manufacturer websites themselves and below are the environmental statements and information from all the main mobile makers that are around (with the exception of HTC – we couldn't find any information on their policy. If you know and can tell us a link to publish then please let us know).