I Don’t Need a New Phone

…But I want one!

A picture of phones in a rubbish heap.  If you are sustainably minded ask "I don't need a new phone."
I don’t need a new phone. Heaps of issues.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I’ve seen ads this week for this fall’s new phones- both the Apple 14 and Samsung folding phones. I wish that I could afford either one. But honestly, that’s not in the cards. I still owe about  $400. on my existing phone with the Apple contract I got two years ago. And, I don’t need a new phone for work or anything. But I still wish I had one! Any soothing words for me?! Byrce, Albany

Dear Byrce: If you own a car, you know that we have all gotten in the habit of keeping our cars longer and trading them in less frequently. Eventually that is going to happen to smartphones. But we are in the early days  and each Fall debuts a new apple-picking season. So how do you come to grips with, “I don’t need a new phone?” There are things you can do to spruce up your two year old phone and make it shine again. But first, congratulate yourself for Not running out to get the newest, shiniest device on the market.

A 2022 study estimates 1.4 billion new phones will be manufactured to meet worldwide demand, and join or replace the 4.5 billion phones already in service.  It’s a positive thing when more people in the world acquire phones, but it is less sustainable if we keep manufacturing brand new ones.  That said, phones are not as carbon intensive as say making new cars.

But holding on to your existing phone for a few more years is an environmentally sound decision that you should feel good about. Almost all of the carbon emissions from phones occurs in their first year- from the mining, the manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and so forth. The longer you can hold on this device, the more you reduce the environmental impact. Here in North America we keep our phones an average of just two years. At the end of this column, I’ll mention your phone’s “second-life.”

Shine the Apple:

But, since the phone and you are going to hang for a while longer, what can you do to shine the apple? Quite obviously, you should download and install the newest, latest operating system, and equally importantly, discover and use the new features it brings. iOs 16.0 will let you customize the locked screen with widgets, and that will give your phone a fresh look. It’s  learning about the features packaged inside this new operating system, like undo messaging and live text that will make you feel more state-of-the-art.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with spiffing out the look of the phone and giving it a new skin. Or, a new case for your phone, Airpods, or even a watch would be a smaller investment and make it tactically new. You could also try out a pop-socket,  a reading stand- or  anything that makes you imagine using your existing phone in a different way and trying out new situations. You can’t upgrade the camera lens, but you can probably improve the way you take pictures and videos by playing with the editing tools.

Clean the Apple:

Most importantly, you can delete the apps that you seldom use (you can always reinstall them if you change your mind), clean-up your contact list, and houseclean on the cloud. If you had a new phone you would probably think twice before bringing over all the baggage from the old one.  This deep-clean will refresh your interaction with the phone, and also help it to run faster and use less battery.

Speaking of battery, you might decide in another year or two that you need a new phone. That’s because your device then needs to be plugged in more often and the charge won’t last as long. When this occurs you can consider replacing the battery. That simple step will improve its performance and extend the phone’s useful life. It’s like the cars we drive- the real key to reducing emissions will be prolonged ownership- whether by a single or multiple owners.

Seed A Change:

It doesn’t mean that you and this phone are forever. When you do choose to replace this device, make sure it either goes back to the phone-reseller or a reputable recycler. The former are able to refurbish the phone and sell it to new customers. The latter will dismantle the phone for its useful materials, so there will be less mining of aluminum (the case), tin (circuit boards) cobalt and lithium (batteries) and other elements. Keep the sock drawer for socks (cotton and polyester), not for socking older but precious phones.

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