The Smallest Part is the Biggest Problem: Cell Phone Chips

One of my favorite scientific journals, the Int. J. of LCA reports, once again, on the life cycle impacts of a cell phone. Through a study on two mobile communication systems (UMTS and GSM), results are presented on the life cycle impacts of the mobile phone itself, since it is obviously a component of the overall system. Without getting into the technical details of the two communication systems, it is interesting to see how the cell phone itself performs. The manufacturing phase has the largest impact, which is contributed mainly to a cell phone’s short service life. The disposal phase has negligible impacts even though the study uses a scenario of 20% incineration and 80% take back. The use phase is also pretty low on the impact scale, coming in between 5 and 15%. Why the production phase?The electronic components do it again. Those little chips turn out to be the big bad contributors to the life cycle impacts: the production of the printed wiring boards and integrated circuits are 40-50% of the environmental impacts.

As well, the transport of the electronic components contributes between 18-25% of the impacts. All of these impacts, as the study concludes, can be reduced by up to 40% through one little action: extending the useful life of the phone. By using your cell phone for up to 4 years, instead of the average (used in this study) of 12 months, you can reduce the impact of that little guy by up to 40%. Are you up for that challenge? Read more about cell phone take back programs here, here, here and here.

Tags: Life Cycle Analysis | Recycling

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