The Afterlife of a Smartphone

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The Afterlife of a Smartphone

Techtober is a time around the month of October where almost every major cellphone manufacturing company just happens to drop the newest and BEST version of their smartphone (right before Christmas shopping begins). In 2018 we saw the release of Apple’s XR, Huawei’s Honor 8X, LG’s V40 THINQ, Google’s Pixel 3 and 3XL, and Sony’s XPeria X23, just to name a few. It is not so unusual for the average consumer to be wowed by the new and improved technology capabilities that these new models offer or to desire to toss that old smartphone over your shoulder to get it! After learning the there is an outstanding 1.5 billion smartphones sold per year, I then got to thinking about all of my smartphones and cellphones past. If this is just just a list of the newest ones, where are the throwbacks? What happened to all of our Razrs, Chocolates, Sidekicks, BlackBerrys, etc.? This really got me wondering about where all of our old phones go when we get rid of them.  Is there a smartphone graveyard with little smartphone caskets, do smartphones transcend to a smartphone heaven, or do they just end up in the bottom of a lake somewhere?

I decided to investigate. I found that there are 2 main routes that phones take when we give them up and then lead the remnants of cellphones past to different resting different places.

The More Complicated Route – “Recycling”:

This process is complicated in that the recycling company (if actually a respectable and dependable organization that takes their purpose seriously) first checks to see if your device is able to be refurbished and reused.

If yes: The phone is wiped clean of data, refurbished, and put back in the market (either the US market or markets in other countries that still value older models) by way of donations or by re-selling.

What happens if your phone is unable to be refurbished? The electronic parts are sent to the local recycling plant to be sacrificing to the all-mighty shredder. The metal parts are sacrificed to the smelter who melt them down. Generally, at least some of the precious metals used in the circuit board are able to be collected by somebody or some organization that collects this e-waste and sells it to a scrap yard to be used in very secrety-secret ways. The daunting name of “smelter” makes it seem like we’re tossing it into the volcanic Mount Doom of Mordor, but smelting (while still terrible for the environment) is not actually that bad of an option relative to the fate of the remaining parts of the phone (like fiber glass and resins) and the phones that go by way of the second route.

The Simple yet Odious Route – “Landfills or E-waste Dumps” :

When a smartphone is simply thrown away by the original owner, it could end up dead in a local/regional landfill somewhere leaking some sort of toxic phone chemicals into the ground. But, a lot of the time when someone or some company throws the cellphones away or when the cellphones are improperly recycled it ends up in an e-waste dump along with those fiber glass and resins sections of the circuit board mentioned earlier. There, the remnants of our livelihood cause hazardous conditions for the people who live there. A lot of this e-waste is shipped by developed nations to poorer countries with these types of dumps. Ghana’s Agbogbloshie dump represents the epitome an e-waste dump where the air, soil, and groundwater alike is filled with toxic chemicals that slowly poison those who live in extreme poverty around the area. For more info watch this video:

While there is some hope on the horizon with many scientists working to develop new ways of recycling that will be cleaner, more environmentally efficient, and not so wasteful and hazardous, there is a lot of apprehension to recycling from companies because the monetary  cost of reusing materials is much greater than that of manufacturing new ones. But the environmental cost and human cost is something I think is much greater than that. That is why I think this is something consumers need to think about before they let their desire for the subtly different next line of smartphone cause them to ditch their perfectly good phones.


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