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Are smartphones…”better”…for the environment?

PhonebloksMobile phones and other smart devices are helping us solve major public policy problems by providing direct personalised access to information. However according to the UNEP, the amount of e-waste being produced – including mobile phones and computers – could rise by as much as 500% over the next decade in some countries. In the making of computer equipment a lot of plastics, metals, chemicals and packaging are used. And our use of these products requires power and produces electronic waste.

Some companies are responding the call to help prevent e-waste get out of control. Apple has launched “Better”, a short video narrated by CEO Tim Cook promoting the company’s efforts to reduce the impact of its business practices on the environment. For example, over the years Apple has reduced the amount of power their computers use. In 1998 the original iMac used 35w of energy in sleep mode. Now the latest model only uses 0.9w. Apple uses more environmentally friendly materials, including mercury free displays, PVC free power cords, arsenic free glass and lead free solder. Items like iTunes Gift cards and iPhoto products use recycled or at least recyclable material.

Other efforts to deal with the e-waste problem include the Phonebloks initiative to build a modular smartphone. This means broken or old parts can be replaced one-by-one rather than buying a whole new phone. Although these are important advances, companies will need to work with governments to support these technologies with behaviour change programs. This includes convincing people to recycle and making sure they have the facilities to do so.

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