Ghanian partners of Closing the Loop, a Dutch enterprise dedicated to decreasing e-waste, collect scrap phones to safely recycle. (Photo: Fairphone)
The release of a new iPhone generates a massive line of customers outside the Apple store. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nearly every year, Apple releases a new iPhone. Millions of phones are sold, and billions of dollars are made. On average, Americans will replace their phones every 2-3 years. But why stop there? In my opinion, phone replacements should only be done every 5 years. It’s better for the environment and takes a stand against harmful tactics used by large technology companies.

When I searched “When should I replace my phone?” on Google, the second result to come up was an article listing signs that someone should look for a new phone. While the author made some good points, including general wear-down and expiring contracts, something stuck out to me. “Nonetheless, replacing your device every two years is still a good idea,” it read. “Even if the phone functions well, the hardware and operating system are antiquated by the time the phone is two years old.”

It may have been just two sentences on a random blog, but I think that it reflects how we see consumerism today. We live in a world where purchases can be made with a few taps on a screen. As a society, we have progressed into a mindset where everything needs to be faster, and more often than not, newer. It is no wonder that corporations like Apple have such a large audience to sell to every year. They make billions with only a promise to be what the world wants: faster.

There is some truth to what the article said. Technology companies are notorious for planned obsolescence. It’s a business tactic where products will specifically be made to deteriorate so consumers will buy new ones. Have you ever replaced a lightbulb? In the early 20th century, lightbulbs were changed to have shorter life spans. That’s planned obsolescence, and it is still in use today. Apple has faced multiple lawsuits specifically about this issue, and even admitted to slowing down its phones. However, I feel that this knowledge has only encouraged this behavior. Either way, Apple is still profiting from phone sales. Whether they come from planned obsolescence or the fear of planned obsolescence is irrelevant. By waiting longer to buy a new phone, you might show these companies that their tactics aren’t working.

On a less business-focused note, the constant purchasing and discarding of phones is also a burden on the environment. Electronic waste, or e-waste, contains toxic substances and must be brought to a special hauler or recycler. When improperly disposed of, e-waste can have harmful effects on the surrounding air, soil and water (not to mention its severe effects on human health). The environmental impact isn’t limited to getting rid of the phone, either. The mining and processing of raw materials used to make electronics uses a lot of energy and creates even more toxic waste. Add that to the oil used for shipping, and you’ve got a massive environmental strain.

Obviously, the responsibility of this strain shouldn’t be borne solely by the consumer. The companies performing these operations should take measures to change their process. However, as the saying goes, vote with your dollar. By prolonging your purchase, you can help slow down this system, and maybe even change it. The world is already seeing progress in this deceleration. People are taking longer to replace their phones, which has extended the average phone life cycle and shown a general disinterest in newer models. I think there is still room for improvement. If you are thinking of getting a new phone, take a moment to think about how you could extend its life span, even by a few months. It will help the environment, and might help you save for an even better model.

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