Smartphones and Sustainability

Are Smartphones Sustainable?

Here at Orchard, we love smartphones. We love them so much that we don’t want to see any smartphone go to waste.

That’s why we buy, fix, and resell dozens of them every day. The sad truth, however, is that most cell phones don’t get this same level of TLC. All too often, a smartphone will end up in the garbage or junk drawer. The environmental impact is staggering.

If someone you know is getting a new cell phone and planning to throw out their old one, here are some numbers that show the environmental impact of smartphones. They might think twice afterward.

Number of Smartphones Produced

[infogram id=”78732ac2-9aa2-4bee-8d76-dedcc432cb6b” prefix=”t45″ format=”interactive” title=”smartphones produced”]

If these figures shock you, that means you’re reading them right.

By the end of 2016 there were 7.1 billion smartphones manufactured. Today, there have been far more smartphones made then there are people on earth.

Rate of Replacement

[infogram id=”92953675-6d53-48e9-8c16-2c0bb792e56b” prefix=”dHf” format=”interactive” title=”Rate of replacement”]

3/4 of smartphone sales are for people replacing their phones, often while the phone they have is still working well. A big part of the reason for this is are cell phone plans that often offer free devices as a signing bonus.

This continuous upgrade cycle means many working phones end up being junked after only a year or two of use.

End Life of Electronics

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The estimated value of all recoverable materials in a year’s e-waste is around $73 billion CAD – more than the yearly GDP of a lot of countries.

However not very much if it is actually recovered, at least not formally.

In 2016, 76% of all e-waste is unaccounted for, and is either in landfills, incinerated, informally recycled, or is sitting unused.

Waste Around the World

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Every year in the Americas, there is an estimated 11.6 kg of e-waste created for each person. Only 17% is properly recycled.

Europe produces more e-waste per capita at 16.6 kg/person, however recycle quite a bit more at 35%. That still means that around 10.8 kg per person in Europe goes unrecycled every year.

e-Waste on the Rise

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(Mt = Million metric tons)

While only 20% of all e-waste is formally recycled, the amount produced yearly is growing. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

By 2020, there is going to be an estimated 4.22 million tons of waste created for consumer electronics alone. If trends don’t change, this amount will grow each year.

The Bottom Line

If the environmental impact isn’t enough to convince a friend or family member not to throw their old phone in the trash and pick up a brand new one, remind them how much money doing the right thing can save them.

Selling a Used Phone

Even an older smartphone like the iPhone 5 can get you more than $100 in a sale. If you want to avoid the hassle of Craigslist or Kijiji, you can easily sell your cell phone with Orchard’s free app for iPhone or Android.

Buying a Used Phone

Finding a quality used smartphone for a fraction of new prices isn’t hard if you know where to look and what to look for.

If you want to try your luck with online classifieds, take a look at our comprehensive guide first. Or you could save yourself some trouble and head over to our shop.


Interested to learn more? We’ve broken down the environmental impacts of smartphones in even greater detail in a new post. Check that out here: Environmental Impact of the iPhone.

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