Phones as Fashion: Can You Resist the New Apple iPhone?

apple iphone photo

The idea of phones as fashion is a frightening one, but I fear that they have definitely moved into this category. A few years ago, I saw an offer by Oxygen in the UK where a plan would get you a new handset every SIX MONTHS! Unfortunately, the environmental impact is a lot higher for phones than for clothing (focusing on the materials themselves and not use).

On July 11, the new 3G Apple iPhone hits stores. Once again, people will be lining up around the world to buy this thing, which is billed as twice as fast at half the price. In 2007, an estimated 700,000 iPhones were purchased on the device's opening weekend.

Not sure about you, but the first time around, I suspect almost none of my friends actually needed a new phone... they just wanted one. And as much as I wanted one, the speed with which so many of my friends had a new multi-hundred dollar phone made me a bit queasy.

cell phone waste photo

We Discard Millions of Phones
According to The New York Times, Americans threw out nearly three million tons of household electronics in 2006.

A few years ago, the EPA predicted that by 2005, cell phones would be discarded at a rate of more than 125 million phones each year, resulting in more than 65,000 tons of waste.

That's a lot of phones!

Phones Use Up a Lot of Resources
To understand the impact, we need to also understand the resources involved. That cell phone in your pocket is made up of nine basic parts, each with its own life cycle.

• Circuit board/printed wiring board
• Liquid crystal display (LCD)
• Keypad
• Microphone
• Speaker
• Plastic casing
• Battery
• Antenna
• Accessories (such as adapters, headsets, carrying cases, and decorative face plates)

Together, the EPA tells us, we're talking 40 percent metals, 40 percent plastics, and 20 percent ceramics and trace materials.

And on a large-scale, these resources, already extracted and ready for the taking, add up to a ton of cash.

The U.S. Geological Survey's 2006 report, "Recycled Cell Phones--A Treasure Trove of Valuable Metals" says if all the cell phones gathering dust in a drawer were recycled, we'd have $314 million worth of metal and 10% of the recycled silver market and 18% of the recycled gold market in the U.S. If all retired phones were recycled, the metal would be worth almost $400 million.

What To Consider When Buying a New Phone
a) Try to ask yourself if you really need that new phone. Is your old one that bad? Do you really need the new functionality or is it more about impressing your pals? Get to the bottom of why you think you need a new phone.

b) Consider buying second hand if you must have one. Or if your current one is broken, figuring out how to get it repaired (often prohibitively expensive).

c) Be sure to recycle your old one.

Photos: Apple; New York Times/Richard Barnes.