For ten years, the “intelligent” phone became a democracy until it became an ordinary everyday thing. However, do we really measure the amount of resources needed to make these handhelds?
He is with you all day, always making your life easier, maybe you are reading this article thanks to him. But do you know what it’s made of? Since its collapse in the mobile phone market in the second half of the 2000s, the touchscreen smartphone, which allows you to make calls, but also to surf the internet, take photos or use countless connected applications, imposed as a matter of course in our lives.—
Making a smartphone requires water equivalent to 10,000 packets in a 6 x 1.5L bottle
According to data collected for NegaOctet, making a standard smartphone thus requires water equivalent to 10,000 packets in 6 x 1.5 L bottles and energy equivalent to a 455 km trip in one. thermal vehicle.
Even before the first use, a smartphone therefore creates a significant impact on the environment, even more problematic because it relies on the part of limited resources. “We have only 30 years of digital technology left in front of us, warns Frédéric Bordage. The faster we use these resources, the stocks of different materials used to make smartphones and many more more high-tech items will be useless in 30 years.And the more unique these materials are, the greater the waste of energy and resources needed to obtain them.
A 300 g smartphone = 5.3 tons of soil taken from the ground
Inside a multifunction mobile, we see carbon in the form of petroleum (converted into plastic for the shell), silicon (from which window glass is made), lithium and cobalt (which make up most batteries) , but also. a host of other materials, including the famous “unique lands”, are often available in very small quantities and collected according to their properties to make the various electronic components needed to machine operation.
On top of the mixing flow, the extraction of these substances is therefore an important step, the cost to the environment being less important. “To make a 300 g smartphone, we need 237 kg of raw material, and to get this amount of raw materials, we need to get 5.3 tons of land”, explained Frédéric Bordage, the founder of collective GreenIT, which has particularly contributed to the NegaOctet database and to a study commissioned by the Ecological Transition Agency (ADEME) on the environmental impact of digital technology in France.
77% of the population in France has at least one smartphone
The latest INSEE statistics perfectly illustrate this omnipresence: by 2021, 77% of the French population (including 94% of 15-29 year olds!) Will own at least one smartphone. However, if its lightness, beautiful appearance and ease of use contribute even more to the dazzling success, these characteristics are deceptive: a high-tech object, a real pocket computer, the “smart” phone is the result of industry processes such as. heavier than complicated.
As a user, it is wrong to think that the ecological footprint of a smartphone is reduced to the electricity used to recharge it. In contrast, the production phase is the one that produces the most environmental impact, as shown by the work done by several independent researchers as part of the NegaOctet project, whose purpose is to evaluate and improve the “activity of environment of digital services. ”.
52 different things in a “smart” phone
To better measure the ecological weight of smartphones, the researchers applied the life cycle analysis (LCA) method, which takes into account the phase of use, but also the previous stages (manufacture, distribution). -distribute) and later (recycling, end of life.). For each of the seven indicators studied (from water consumption to the amount of CO2 emitted, which goes through the fossil and non-fossil resources used), the result is clear: between 60 and 100% of the ecological impacts come from the Manufacturing stage. .
To achieve a gem of miniaturized technology such as the smartphone, it is really necessary to deploy in the mountains of effort, and already to gather a certain amount of raw materials to make different elements (screen and glass, shell, battery, motherboard, integrated circuits, etc.). According to an animation published in 2017 by the SystExt association, which specializes in research on retrieval systems, there are at least 52 different components in a standard mid-range smartphone (metals, mineral or liquid), corresponding to many elements of the famous Mendeleev. periodic table.
“We have 30 years of digital technology left before us”
“If we are to consider digital as a valuable resource, we need to keep it now, emphasizes the founder of GreenIT. There is an issue for our children. We are not talking about future generations, but about that already. Children on Earth today will experience the end of the digital age for the rest of their lives. ” After it has been adopted as a norm for several decades, to the point for example of “dematerializing” a certain number of management practices, should the West and mankind in general be able to learn? to live without the digital gadget?
As it stands, the risk in any case is highlighted by the impossibility of minimizing the impacts created by the manufacture of smartphones, because “industry processes do not know how to make it better today”, assured by Frédéric Bordage. At the other end of the smartphone life cycle, recycling doesn’t seem like a practical solution. “We can recover some materials, but the techniques are very polluting and more energy efficient, especially water consumption”, warns the researcher.
“The key is to make it last, Frédéric Bordage finally decided. On the one hand, you need a truly modular design, which will allow you, for example, to replace the battery yourself and make on the phone that will last. warranty periods of 2 to 5 years.The other major issue, in order to extend the overall useful life of the product, is reuse.This does not mean to keep the same smartphone as long as as possible, but be careful, if it changes, to give it a second life by selling it to a reconditioner who will then distribute it.
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