Manufacturing the average smartphone create around 16kg of CO2. If you then add the amount of power the phone consumes over two years of use that figure rises to 22kg.
Smartphones contain hazardous materials like bromine, chlorine, lead and mercury, while more than 1,000 components are made of metals like gold, tin, lithium and tantalum, which, although not poisonous, cause huge damage through land degradation and mining. Other ethical considerations to take into account, such as whether the minerals required to build a smartphone have been sourced from countries where workers are not paid properly, treated fairly or where there are human rights abuses or conflicts.
The average smartphone uses more electricity than a refrigerator, but the actual power required to charge it is small. The infrastructure required to support the usage accounts for by far the largest share of the power. It’s the servers running 24/7, the air-conditioning required to cool them and the power that keeps our broadband network running nonstop.
A one-minute mobile-to-mobile chat produces 57g of CO2, which is about the same as an apple or a large gulp of beer. That probably sounds quite sustainable, but bear in mind that’s just one call. Over the course of a year, someone who makes or receives a call for just two minutes a day will generate 47kg of CO2 emissions. If you talk on the phone for an hour a day then that rockets up to 1250kg. That’s the equivalent of flying from London to New York.
The number of smartphones users in the world is currently 2.54 billion. On that basis, mobile calls alone could account for around 1.25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is just over one-quarter of a percent of the current global emissions.