Is Your Smartphone’s Carbon Footprint Weighing You Down?


If you’re holding your smartphone right now it probably feels pretty light. What if we told you you were actually holding over 100 pounds of CO2 in your hand? That’s on the low end of the amount of carbon a smartphone generates in emissions in just one year. Just the manufacturing process alone creates 35 lbs of carbon, which raises to 59 lbs of carbon when you factor in the energy needed to power your device for an entire year. If you only talk on the phone for 2 minutes per day that puts you at 103 lbs of CO2 for the year. But, if you’re a talker, and spend an hour talking on the phone daily then you’re up to 2,755 pounds of carbon per year. Feeling depressed about the state of your carbon footprint even though you’re trying to minimize your impact on our planet? You’re not alone. We’re here to guide you through some ‘smart’ practices to help offset your device’s carbon footprint.

Electronics, especially smartphones, give us a lot to think about. It’s hard to believe that less than 15 years ago smartphones were far from the norm. With an average of a 2 year life cycle they’re essentially disposable and in the digital age they’re something we can’t really live without. The problem is that creating a new smartphone, specifically mining the rare minerals, represents 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for 2 years. That means buying a new phone takes the same amount of energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for a whole decade. YIKES.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many options yet for “greener” smartphones or alternatives to using smartphones in our daily lives. But, we can make other choices to help combat these dilemmas.

1. Pela Case compostable smartphone + accessories cases 2. Nimble recycled materials smartphone cases 3. LifeProof recycled ocean plastic smartphone cases 4. Credo Mobile ethical cellular service provider 5. Back Market refurbished electronics website 6. Recycle your old cell phones 7. Ecosia search engine plants trees 8. Incipio biodegradable smartphone cases 9. Case-Mate biodegradable smartphone cases


Want to reduce your cell phone’s carbon footprint? Here are some questions to ask yourself:


Can I find a refurbished/secondhand device?

With more smartphones to choose from these days, there are also more ways to get your hands on an older model. Buying a refurbished or open box device drastically decreases your impact compared to buying the newest model fresh out of the carrier or electronic store. Back Market is a cool place to start to find a replacement for your electronics. They offer tested and verified products, a 1 year minimum warranty and 30 day money back guarantee. Their mission is “to restore trust and desire for refurbished devices” and they are one of the best options for getting truly reliable refurbished products. Buying a new phone is kinda like driving a new car off the dealership. As soon as you’ve opened that box/driven it off the lot it’s value decreases. Why not shop for a perfectly good phone at up to 70% off. Back Market’s listings make it easy to find the device you need in the aesthetic condition you can live with. For example; buying a new refurbished iPhone 11 Pro (at over 40% off btw) you can avoid nearly 290 lbs of ewaste!

Other options like Groupon or Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp are slightly more risky, but maybe you’ll get lucky!

Can I keep using my current one longer, even after the newest shiniest model comes out?

It’s no secret that the most sustainable item is the one you already own. Buying new instead of reusing and repurposing is not a solution even if the new option is made “sustainably”. When it comes to our electronics, we try avoid buying the newest model. Some might say we’re not “up-to-date” because we’re still rocking much older models, but if it’s not broken, why upgrade? Planning out the lifespan of your phone can be difficult. Accidents happen and sometimes you have to replace your devices earlier than expected. Treat your phone well and try not to let advertisements and influencers on social media persuade you that you NEED the most current phone model. Every month you keep using your older model you are helping to negate the horrible environmental impact that went into its creation.

Can I switch to a provider like Credo Mobile that doesn’t donate money to anti-environmental causes/politicians and actually gives money to ethical projects?

Big cellular doesn’t often get addressed when conversations about climate change and environmental degradation come up. But, their hands aren’t clean behind the scenes of many political campaigns. Stemming back to at least a decade ago, Verizon and AT&T were on the list of mega donors to right-wing politicians affiliated with the Tea Party Caucus – most of whom are climate change deniers. Fast-forward to January 2021 where telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T stated that they were going to freeze donations to “any member of Congress who voted in favor of objecting to the election results” following the insurrection events at the U.S. Capitol Building. They also mentioned “reevaluating” PAC contributions. While this might seem like good news, it only instills more weariness that it took such an awful event for them to make these statements. When they decided to suspend donations to those involved in denying that President Biden won the election fairly, they only proved their involvement in a multitude of campaigns that do not have the environmental crisis at the forefront of their agendas, if they accept it at all.

Credo Mobile continues its work towards social and environmental change. They originally started in 1985 as Working Assets Funding Service, with a credit card that generated donations to progressive non profits every time a cardholder used it. By 1990 they had already donated $1 million to non profits and in 1991 they started using 1% from customer’s charges to help fund their non profit partners even more. Just 6 years later their donations to non profits reached $10 million. In 2000 they launched their mobile phone service with high activism engagement during the vote counting in Florida for the Bush vs. Gore election. In 2007 they became the first mobile company in the U.S. to offer a solar-powered phone charger. Since then they have been rallying customers, activists, and environmentalists on the frontlines of issues like stopping the XL and Keystone Pipelines and Arctic drilling, defending Planned Parenthood, working on petitions and protests to protect immigrants, and more.

Do you know the history or core mission of your current cellular provider? Credo Mobile might not have the widest range of cell service or catchy commercials, but they have easy plans where you can bring your own device to start an installment or no contract plan. Customers like you get to vote monthly on how to distribute $150,000 in donations and Credo is able to deliver funding quickly to the selected non profit grantees so they can continue their important grassroots work.

Can I vow to use search engines like Ecosia (also available as an app) to plant trees and avoid search engines that run on fossil fuels and are paid big bucks by corporations to have their ads pop up first?

Ecosia is a certified B Corporation that was founded in 2009 with the desire to combat deforestation. The Ecosia search engine serves the same purpose as Google, except every time you surf the web, a tree is planted with the money generated from ad-supported search results. As of June 2019, 60 million trees have been planted at 9,000 different sites and Ecosia built its own solar energy plant to power every search. Bonus, they don’t have third party trackers and don’t sell your data to advertisers. Find their financial and tree planting reports here for that extra accountability that we all love to see.

Can I find a way to donate, sell, or properly recycle my old electronics instead of tossing them in the trash?

In states like California it is actually illegal to throw your smartphones in the regular garbage. But, nationwide, you can recycle your old iphones through Apple’s Trade In or recycling program. Find the value of your old devices here. If your device isn’t on the list they will still take it back to be recycled. If you aren’t into getting Apple store credit other retailers like Best Buy, Target and most major carriers also take back electronics for recycling and/or gift cards. 

Another option is to take advantage of Nimble’s One-for-One Tech Recovery Project to send back a bundle of ewaste that is collecting dust in your closet or electronics drawer. Nimble offers a pre-paid shipping label so you can fill up a package with old cell phones/tablets/MP3 players, cables, electronics cases, digital cameras, beepers/pagers, and more. They partner with Homebody Electronics Recycling, a service that provides permanent jobs for men and women who face systemic barriers to employment.

Do your old phones still work? Consider donating it to an organization that helps victims of abuse or domestic violence, veterans, or medical workers communicate.

Can I protect my phone better to keep it damage-free with eco-friendly cases like Pela Case or Nimble?

Pela Case is a 1% For The Planet company that creates plant-based phone cases that eventually break down as compostables. Their classic cases are made with a bioplastic made from leftover flax straw. Their newest case is made out of hemp hurd, a by-product of the industrial hemp industry. Not to mention it’s extremely satisfying to watch how they’re made. I recently saddled up my same old phone with an updated Pela Case to keep it crack-free. And guess what? They take back your old case (any type) to churn into new cases or get properly recycled as part of their Pela 360 closed loop process. They are committed to taking responsibility for their products throughout their entire lifecycle. This helps combat the 1.5 BILLION plastic phone cases that are thrown away each year.

Nimble creates eco-friendly phone cases from recycled materials including CDs and ocean plastic. They are the first ever brand to create these up cycled cases from old Compact Discs! Plus, these cases come in plastic-free packaging. They also provide free shipping labels with purchases so you can mail back any plastic cases or old electronics to be responsibly recycled as mentioned above. 

Case-Mate and Incipio also provide biodegradable phone case options now as well.

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