How to give old smartphones a second life to save the planet

Credit: Daniel Romero/Unsplash.

Did you know that most people only use their smartphones for about 2.5 years before getting a new one?

With about 1.5 billion smartphones sold each year, nearly the same number are also thrown away.

Even though these old phones could work for up to 10 more years, they usually end up forgotten in a drawer or a box in the garage.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, have been looking at this problem.

They found that we’re only using about 25% of a smartphone’s possible life before tossing it.

In a study that’s been praised and downloaded many times, they talk about how to use these old phones in new ways to help the environment.

Why Recycling Isn’t Enough

You might think recycling is the answer, but it’s not that simple.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has told us that recycling smartphones can get back useful materials like copper, silver, and gold.

But there’s a catch. Recycling also uses a lot of energy and can even harm our air, water, and natural places.

A New Plan for Old Phones

The scientists, led by a Ph.D. student named Jennifer Switzer, have a new idea they call “Junkyard Computing.” Instead of recycling the old phones, why not put them back to work?

They suggest using the phone’s brain (known as a processor) for simple tasks that don’t need a brand-new computer. For example, these repurposed phones could help power social media websites or be turned into sensors that watch over wildlife.

They even created a way to measure how much this would help the planet. It’s called Computational Carbon Intensity (CCI), and it shows how much carbon dioxide is made during a computer’s whole life. By using old phones for new purposes, we can actually make our technology greener.

Why Smartphones Are Special

Old smartphones are perfect for this kind of reuse because they have many parts that are still good, like power supplies and networking tools.

Plus, they’ve already caused their big carbon footprint when they were made, so using them longer can spread out that impact over more time.

As one of the scientists, Pat Pannuto, puts it: “For gadgets like smartphones, most of their carbon footprint comes from being made, not from being used.” So, why not extend their life and do something good for the Earth?

This idea has caught a lot of attention and even won an award. It’s a fresh look at how we can fight waste and make technology more eco-friendly at the same time.

So, the next time you think about upgrading your phone, remember that the old one still has a lot of life left in it — and could even help save the planet!

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Source: UC San Diego.