Why your old phones collect in a junk drawer of sadness

Why your old phones collect in a junk drawer of sadness

September 11, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Everyone has one of these. It’s like your
phone graveyard and with mine they know there’s like a couple of Kindles and
then iPad at least one and they’re all these like phones. And once upon a time
these were like the most important things I had. And now it’s just sort of in
this drawer and I shut it and I hope they kind of go away. As a scientist I
spend a lot of time in nature. I’m also a tech geek.
My phone is pretty much my entire life, but it isn’t just an environmental
problem once I’m done using it. Around 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions that
come from a smartphone occur before it even reaches your hands. On average, Americans
swap out their phone every two years. And about 1.4 billion phones have
produced and sold every year, but where these phones have put together matters
as far as how big the energy footprint is. They make these massive trips around
the world to be built, assembled, and then shipped. Much of the journey’s down on giant
container ships, that go for a country to country for each step of the process. This happens with most things we buy that are made overseas. We often associate
smog with our cars, but collectively these ships can cause the same amount of
smog and particulate pollution as all the cars in the world. That’s kind of a
big deal Once a phone is put together, it really isn’t designed to be taken apart.
And that means it’s hard to repair. We are users of electronics, we aren’t
participants with them anymore. There’s a great history of tinkering, for many
other types of products, cars especially. And I have a really really robust repair
and tinkering community that surrounds this. And you know like getting underneath our
sink and taking things apart, and figuring out how they work and really
feeling confident about that. Our phones are these futuristic looking devices.
They almost seem like sci-fi. So it’s intimidating to open them up and
look inside. But fixing your phone isn’t impossible.
It could save you a ton of money along with reducing waste. Ifixit’s Gwendolyn
Gay gives tutorials on how to take apart and fix your electronics. So I went to
see her, to see if she could make this process less scary. So this is my
personal cell phone that I’m gonna show. How many times you open your personal
phone? I’ve opened it a couple of times and this is relatively new, so I don’t I
don’t I haven’t needed to go in there other than just of curiosity. Sure you want to do this? You’re very worried for me. No because you know it’s like
the reason is everything from banking to travel, everything is on my phone. Right.
And I think that’s why we get so nervous about monkeying with it. I think that holds people back, but I also think the price of the phone holds people back. Knowing that you’re voiding your warranty, so if you open your phone, this
$600 phone, you’re just S.O.L don’t do it right. Right. So there are
resources if you’re brave enough to repair your phone but what if opening your
phone wasn’t so complicated in the first place? There actually is a company trying
to do exactly this. It’s called The Fairphone Now I didn’t even know you could
actually build a phone like that, like you could actually build it. Like a Lego
set like that, but but so that’s the Fairphone. Fairphone, this is actually the
second one. Fairphone 2, and they’re only available in Europe and I can actually
do, So easy pie, we’re already in. And you can take out the battery just
like that. Wow. No tools needed and then the display is very similar, you
just unlock it here and then you can slide the display off. Really. So yeah and I
can do that whole process in less than 20 seconds. If all I had to do was pull a
few tabs to fix my phone, I would be more inclined to fix it myself. Now the Fairphone has plans in the future to release phone to the US, but
with no specific date set, I’ll need to figure out another option. Like getting
rid of my old phones responsibly. So let me ask you a different question. Why don’t I actually want to throw this away? You don’t want to throw this away because it everything inside here is going to
create some kind of waste and it’s going to be toxic waste and if we’re sending
it to a place that is recycling it, say, we still don’t get everything out of it. What’s the most toxic thing in a phone? I’d say the battery for sure. You remove it wrong, it will explode, so you have to take out the battery. Really, this can blow up? Yes, yeah. mm-hmm yes. Don’t do that. So what
do we do with our cell phone graveyard? Now most of us just hoard them like I do,
because it isn’t just as simple as your typical curbside pickup. But there are
easy ways to do this. In New York and California, stores that sell you a cell
phone are required to accept it back from you for recycling. Companies like
gazelle will even buy your old phones off you. There’s also organizations
dedicated to mapping out where you can drop your electronics off. Companies like
Apple are starting to figure out a better recycling process. They have a
robot called Liam that can take apart an iPhone 6 in 11 seconds. That’s roughly
1.2 million iPhones per year. The small screws and other components can be used
again. Raw materials like silver found in the phone’s circuits, can be used in solar
panels And the tungsten that makes your phone buzz, can be reused in tools. But what if we could design a phone that just lasted longer? Now one of the big
reasons why we replace our phones is because our batteries just stop holding
a charge. Now imagine your battery charging in minutes instead of hours. And measuring its lifespan in decades rather than just a couple of years. University of California researchers are starting to turn to 3d printing, to make this
happen. There’s the potential there that you can basically design the battery to
improve its performance, so you could start to play around with design
parameters that you just didn’t have control over in traditional
manufacturing. With 3d printing, if we can now print a battery in any arbitrary
shape that we want, what you can do then is
design your phone however you want to design phone, and then fill it, the empty
space in there, with your energy storage material. These batteries would be made
using an exciting new compound called graphene. This means we could avoid
harmful mining of materials like lithium found in today’s batteries. All of this
technology is in its early stages, but it could radically transform the lifespan
of AI electronics. Look, it’s perfectly common in the airline industry to get on
a plane that’s like 30 years old. You can’t possibly imagining making a
phone call on a 30 year old cell phone. You wouldn’t even know how to charge it
today. And that’s the fundamental way we use technology today and that it’s
innovating so fast and built in such a way that it actually promotes
disposability, but I think we’re actually at a very interesting tipping point. As
people become more aware, companies become more sensitive to this issue. Hey Liam what are you doing for Earth Day? So, the next big flashy thing with our smartphones might not be better graphics
or a faster processor, but instead making them more sustainable. Ever wondered
about the carbon footprint of your smartphone or some amazing materials
that could revolutionize your electronics? to find out more.