Quantcast

Here's What 7 Billion Smartphones in 10 Years Looks Like

Popular
iStock

By Elizabeth Jardim

Smartphones have undeniably changed our lives—and the world—in a very short amount of time. Just 10 years ago, we took pictures with cameras, used maps to plan routes and kept in touch with friends and family using T9 text messages.

If you're among the more than 2 billion people in the world that now uses a smartphone, chances are pretty good you remember your first smartphone. You remember how your life changed when your phone suddenly became connected to the Internet and became a tool to find your way around almost anywhere instantaneously, send emails on the go, stay in touch with loved ones 24/7 and answer all your random curiosities.

But do you remember when you got your second smartphone? Or your third? Do you remember how many smartphones you've had since 2007?

We wanted to find out how many smartphones had been made since Apple's first iPhone came on to the market in 2007 and the answer surprised us—more than 7 billion. That means that if every smartphone ever made was still operational, there would be roughly enough for every person on the planet.

Greenpeace

Of course, this is not the case. The average phone in the U.S. is used for just more than two years, despite the fact it can function for longer. Phone users are often lured into prematurely replacing their phones—either because they are up for a new contract and the new phone appears to be "free" or because of a single failing part, such as the screen or battery, that's too complicated or expensive for the average person to repair.

At this rate, we're all on track to use at least 29 phones in our lifetimes.

Jumasyanto Sukamo / Greenpeace

This rapid turnover of devices is what leads to record profits for smartphone manufacturers year after year. It also leads to many damaging impacts on people and our planet.

Miners in remote landscapes extract tons of metal ore and precious metals for these devices. From there, these materials pass through a complex refining, processing and manufacturing supply chain. Workers in electronics factories are often unknowingly exposed to hazardous chemicals that damage their health. These facilities our powered by an energy mix that is dominated by fossil fuels, which furthers the impacts of climate change.

In our report From Smart to Senseless: The Global Impact of Ten Years of Smartphones we unpack the problems with the current smartphone production model.

Here is some of what we found:

  • 7.1 billion smartphones have been produced since 2007.
  • More than 60 different elements are commonly used in the manufacturing of smartphones. While the amount of each element in a single device may seem small, the combined impacts of mining and processing these precious materials for 7 billion devices is significant.
  • In 2014 alone, e-waste from small IT products like smartphones was estimated to be 3 million metric tons. Less than an estimated 16 percent of global e-waste is recycled.
  • Only two (Fairphone and LG G5) of 13 models reviewed had easily replaceable batteries. This means consumers are forced to replace their whole devices when the battery life starts to dwindle.
  • Since 2007, roughly 968 terawatt hours (TWh) has been used to manufacture smartphones, which is nearly the same as one year's power supply for India (973 TWh in 2014).
  • At end-of-life, current design makes disassembly difficult, including the use of proprietary screws and glued in batteries; therefore, smartphones are often shredded and sent for smelting when "recycled." Given the small amounts of a wide diversity of materials and substances in small devices, smelting is inefficient or ineffective, at recovering many of the materials.

The recent recall of Samsung's overheating and explosive Galaxy Note 7 phones is a prime example of the problems with the current production model—rushed design and production cycles can lead to costly mistakes. After investigating, the company attributed the battery flaws in part to accelerated production efforts to outpace competitors. Recalling the phones was the right choice. But now Samsung needs to decide what to do with the 4.3 million handsets.

Since November 2016, we've been calling on the company to reuse and recycle phones. To date, Samsung has not revealed its plan. Join us in calling on Samsung to recycle these phones and commit to making phones in the future that can be easily repaired, reused and recycled.

Pablo Blazquez / Greenpeace

Sign the petition to Samsung!

Despite the many challenges that confront it, the IT sector is well positioned to fix these problems and set an example for all industries by moving from a linear to a circular production model—one that reuses precious raw materials.

As IT companies have shown again and again, technology and creativity can be used as powerful forces to disrupt outdated business models. Leading IT companies can become the greatest advocates for a circular production model and a renewably powered future. The brightest designers can create toxic-free gadgets to last, be repairable and ultimately be transformed into something new.

Elizabeth Jardim is senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An artist's rendering of the recomposition facility. MOLT Studios

Washington became the first U.S. state to legalize human composting Tuesday, offering residents a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of their remains, AFP reported.

Read More Show Less
Mr.TinDC / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS

Many nutrients are essential for good health.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
albedo20 / Flickr

By Pat Thomas

Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.

But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.

Read More Show Less
People in more than 100 countries are expected to take part in well over 1,000 strikes on May 24 to demand climate action from their governments. @ExtinctionR / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Two months after what was reportedly the largest international climate demonstration ever, young people around the world are expected to make history again on Friday with a second global climate strike.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Asian elephants frolic in Kaudulla Wewa at Kaudulla National Park in central Sri Lanka. David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

A low-fat diet that prioritizes eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables each day could lower the risk a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a multi-decade study published this month.

Read More Show Less
smcgee / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.

Read More Show Less