When your phone breaks or just doesn’t work as well as it used to, do you go out and buy a new model? It’s an exciting prospect to get a new phone. But tossing out our old phones has negative environmental impacts. With just a few repairs, your phone might work fine for several years and save you money, too.
If your phone isn’t functioning as well as it should, you have a choice to make: Throw it out and hurt the environment by buying a new phone, begin the process of recycling it, or repair it yourself. Let’s talk about why you should choose the latter two and how to get your phone up and running again.
The Environmental Cost of Discarding Our Phones
There are numerous reasons why improperly discarding your smartphone is bad for the environment. For starters, your phone is made up of many materials, including lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. If we just throw away our smartphones, these useful but toxic materials end up as waste in landfills. From there, they can potentially leak into the soil and make their way into our water supply.
When we don’t reclaim those materials by recycling our e-waste, companies need to mine new materials from the earth. This process is harmful to the local ecosystems and results in carbon emissions from machinery used to mine, transport, and process the materials. The use of recycled materials results in fewer emissions.
Also, when we are quick to replace our phones, manufacturers respond to the demand by producing more new smartphones. The production process, packaging, transporting — and even warehousing of excess inventory — all consume resources and energy, resulting in more carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
When we buy and consume more than we need, we are not working towards sustainability. So, to help the planet and save some money, consider trying the repairs yourself.
You Can Make Many Repairs Yourself
Although smartphones are becoming more complex every year, fixing some common issues is easier than you may think. By searching online at websites like iFixit, you learn which tools you need and get step-by-step instructions to fix any brand of phone. For instance, to replace the battery on an iPhone, you can use special tools to open the phone, unscrew the existing battery, make the switch, and then seal up the device like it never happened.
Whether you have an Android or iPhone, you can find instructions to replace your battery or screen, change out a headphone jack, remove the SIM card, and do many other tasks. Although you can find repair guides online, some repairs may need an expert; take your phone to a certified dealer if necessary. Always check the fine print on your phone contract to determine if fixing something will void your warranty.
If the phone appears to be a total loss or the manufacturer tells you it cannot be fixed, make sure it gets to a facility that will recycle it. You can do this by bringing it to the phone company or a local electronics retailer that accepts electronics for recycling, like Best Buy. Enter your ZIP code in this Earth911 search to find cell phone recycling options near you.
If the phone still works but you still need a newer version, then consider donating it to a charitable organization or Goodwill, where they may be able to sell it to someone who needs it. Before you donate or sell it, be sure to remove all data from your phone for your protection.
Phone Companies Are Creating Solutions
The good news is that phone companies are becoming part of the solution by creating repair programs that can help you use your phone longer. For instance, Samsung Self Repair, a collaboration with iFixit, gives customers access to parts, tools, and instructional guides to help them repair their phones. Currently, this service enables Samsung Galaxy owners to replace display assemblies, back glass, and charging ports — and return used parts to Samsung for recycling. Samsung plans to expand this self-repair option to more devices and repairs.
Over at Apple, they have a program called Self Service Repair. While initially limited to U.S. customers and iPhone versions 12, 13, and third-generation SE, Apple has plans to expand the service. Through the online portal, customers can access repair manuals, order parts and professional repair tools, and print a label to return replaced parts for recycling. Apple recommends that only those with knowledge and experience attempt to repair their device. To purchase Apple parts, you must supply your serial number, so make sure you have that before you start.
It’s worth noting that even if your phone doesn’t need a repair now, you can help it last longer by adding a screen protector, restarting the device periodically, and removing unnecessary apps and files.
In the end, the choice to repair your phone instead of throwing it away is a good idea for everyone. If repair is not an option, be sure to recycle your phone so that valuable materials can be reclaimed and reused instead of polluting the planet.
Feature image by Kilian Seiler on Unsplash
Originally published on June 16, 2022, this article was updated in May 2023.
About the Author
Sam Bowman writes about people, the environment, tech, and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.