While nearly people now change their smartphone although it still works, it is becoming essential to raise public awareness about more reasoned consumption. With the display of the repairability index, now compulsory for five types of products, including smartphones, consumers have new information to help them choose their electronic products. Because to reduce our consumption of devices of this type and preserve our resources, it is important to be able to repair them and give them a second life. We met Erwann Fangeat from Ademe, co-author of a study on product life extension.
Erwann Fangeat, coordinator of the Products and material efficiency division in the Circular economy and waste department of Ademe. Why is it so important to extend the lifespan of our electronic phones when collection and recycling channels are already in place?
Erwann Fangeat: According to a study conducted by Ademe, the French change their phone on average every two years, while in 88% of cases, it still works. By analyzing the life cycle of a smartphone (manufacture, distribution, use, recycling, etc.), the step with the greatest environmental impact is the manufacturing phase.
About three quarters of the ecological footprint is linked to construction. This impact is global and we must consider both the use of natural resources and greenhouse gases. Some figures speak for themselves. To make a smartphone of at least 5.5 inches, you have to mobilize 200 kg of raw materials. To make an 11 kg television set, it is on average 2.5 t, and for a washing machine - 2.1 t. It is therefore important to
To make a smartphone of at least 5.5 inches, you have to mobilize 200 kg of raw materials. In view of the life cycle of a smartphone, use has a fairly limited impact on the environment.
In France, we have a large proportion of electricity coming from nuclear power, and therefore low in carbon compared to other countries. The manufacturing phase is therefore predominant, particularly with the extraction of raw materials and certain metals. To make a smartphone, we use an average of fifty of these and, for some, resources are dwindling quickly.
If we know how to manage scarcity, it is much more difficult to manage a shortage. Dependence on these metals, which are becoming rare, could also lead to geopolitical crises. Indeed, these metals are sometimes held by a small number of producing countries. The stake on these resources will become very important, even primordial.
Beyond the environmental impact, there is also a very important social and economic aspect.
Indeed, the social impact is sometimes dramatic, and since it is far away, we generally do not measure it. In the large lithium mines in South America, water is used extensively to the detriment of local populations. Cobalt mines are called “blood mines” because they are the source of armed conflict.
In a ton of smartphones, there is 100 times more gold than in a ton of gold ore
For the consumer, there are many avenues to explore. The starting point is of course the choice of products. There are environmental labels, and since January 2021, you can also take into account the repairability index on certain categories of products, including smartphones. We can thus take into account the fact that a battery will be easily replaced at the time of purchase. This index also takes into account the possibility of making updates. You can also choose a second-hand, reconditioned product. It is sometimes possible to favor rental or to promote the purchase and use in shared mode for certain less personal tools.
For example, the average duration of use of a drill is 10 minutes per year: you might as well make a shared purchase when possible. It is also necessary to avoid the over-equipment and the oversizing of the devices, and it is important to adapt its purchase to its needs. Of course, we must limit the renewal (s) of equipment when it is still functioning, and therefore avoid giving in to the sirens of marketing. For example, the lifespan of a smartphone is about five years. However, on average, the French change model every two years.
Are there good practices for extending the lifespan of a smartphone?
The maintenance of its equipment is paramount. At Fnac-Darty, 50% of after-sales service returns of household appliances are due to poor maintenance. For smartphones, there are many accessories to protect your equipment and limit breakage, such as covers or screen protectors. A smartphone in good condition will be easier to sell.
We must of course give priority to repair and do not forget to invoke the legal guarantee which is two years. Digital is one of the few sectors where repair is doing well. Here again, the price of new is very impacting. Do not hesitate to give your equipment to relatives, associations, or resell it to give them a second life. The last option is of course recycling by taking your equipment to the D3E collection points (Waste from electrical and electronic equipment). The battery must be taken care of by avoiding completely discharging it or leaving the smartphone permanently on the mains.
Is it easy to recycle and recover this electronic waste?
These mountains of collected electronic products are veritable urban mines. In a ton of smartphones, there is 100 times more gold than in a ton of gold ore. Recycling is the last step. Through our consumption choices, the idea remains to promote the eco-design of products with more durable devices, more easily repairable, and whose manufacture is more respectful of the environment.
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