The Environmental Impact of Cell Phones

JD Rucker January 11 Gadgets

Just in time for next month’s Verizon iPhone release, we present to you a bit of thought-provoking, guilt-tripping data.

In this graphic by InfographicWorld was created for iAmGreen and brings to light some of the questions that nobody asks but everyone should. What happens to all of those cell phones that we simply stop using after we move on to the latest and greatest? How much power does it take to keep all of these cell phones running?

Is it likely that this graphic will make you toss out (in the recycling bin, of course) your cell phones and go back to the age of landlines? Of course not, but it makes for interesting trivia questions at cocktail parties.

Written by JD Rucker

+JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of both Judeo Christian Church and Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
SEE MORE ARTICLES BY "JD Rucker"

Related posts
Comments

18 Comments »

 
#1
Chris Taylor
January 12th, 2011 at 9:09 am

Your data seems VERY flawed. I keep cell phones for YEARS especially when I have one that works well. I also don’t throw them away. I still have my first cell phone :-) Sanyo SCP-6200 :-)

Your power usages seems WEIRD to me. I use a power hungry windows mobile smart phone (Touch Pro 2) and I use it a LOT. I charge it sometimes twice a day but usually once a day.

1500mah battery. so 1.5 amps a day (assume full depletion to keep the math easy and to be generous) or 7.5 watts of power.

2737.5 watts of electricity. or what a 75watt light bulb would use in 1.5 days.

your trying to tell me a 75 watt light bulb uses 32 gallons of gasoline to a 75watt light bulb for 1.5 days? your out of your mind and your math is 100% FUBAR man.

I can run my 5000 watt genny at 50% load (2500 watts) for 10 hours on 5 gallons of gas. so 18 gallons of gas roughly to run 2500 watts for 36 hours. thats more than 33 75 watt light bulbs for the same 36 hours.

and I only used 18 gallons of gas almost HALF what you claim ONE light bulb would consume in that same time and thats using an very inefficient home GENERATOR not grid power.

your numbers are hogwash. REGULAR cell phones use even less power. My phone is one of the most power hungry phones on the market!

if we used my rugged sanyo it uses 1700mah in 6-10 DAYS depending on usage.

How much do that land line consume? how much power is lost in the wires (electricity is pushed through phone lines to power the phones)

We have NO land line in our homes.

As for data transfer thats hogwash too unless your counting server side energy usage AND that gasoline usage is for ALL users combined??

because I know I can transfer 1gig of data in about 20 minutes there is no way the system I am using (my phone and the server) used 7.3 gallons of gas in that 20 minutes.

 
 
#2
Cbausch
August 18th, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I have an internship right now performing these calculations for a company who produces semiconductors.  These numbers are orders of magnitude off, not just flawed.  Even adding transmission and distribution losses into the energy consumption of one phone does not produce such large numbers.  The IEEE magazine just released an article “The Global Footprint of Mobile Communications…” verifying that traditional phones produce about 2kWh/ yr and smartphones 7 kWh/yr.  This is much closer to the calculations I have reached.  Its true that improvements can be made, but this whole post is very misleading.  The biggest consumer in the Telecommunications industry is the network base stations.  Improvements on their end will make the greatest difference. 

 
 
#3
Chris Taylor
January 12th, 2011 at 9:30 am

BTW I just found a calc to convert the numbers

My TOuch pro 2 massive color screen touch screen gps multimedia windows mobile smart phone (does more than an iphone even) uses 9.855 megajoules a year.

where do you get 4221 megajoules?

4221 megajoules would run over 428 of my phones PER YEAR.

I am not aware of ANY PHONE ON EARTH that can use 4221 megajoules a year under ANY conditions.

to show how NUTS your numbers are a CAR BATTERY a good decent car battery ie 50amp hours or 2.34 megajoules. or 854.1 megajoules a year if you FULLY DEPLETED IT DAILY

1024.92 megajoules a year if we assume only 80% efficiency in the charger to recharge the battery.

do you have ANY idea how many cell phones I can run off that battery? BTW I screwed up my math my phone uses 5.55 watts not 7.5 (I assumed 5v but the battery is actually 3.7 volts and its upconverted inside the phone)

I could run 117 of my phones off that car battery for an entire year (and thats HEAVY use like my usage) and this includes the efficiency of the charger into that math!!

so your saying the average cell phone uses more than 482 times MORE POWER than my phone does and thats including a 20% energy loss in recharging !!!

hogwash. complete hogwash. PLEASE redo your numbers OR explain where I am doing my math wrong.

average house uses 32,040 megajoules of power a year or enough power that It would take 876,093.75 of my phones running on CAR batteries using 80% efficiency chargers to equal 28,000 homes.

 
 
#4
chris taylor fan
January 12th, 2011 at 10:57 am

Chris Taylor did his research! Regardless… Taking a step back. The landfills are what’s hurting here… more people need to recycle phones!

 
 
#5
joe
January 12th, 2011 at 11:14 am

don’t believe a word.

 
 
#6
Luke
January 12th, 2011 at 11:40 am

get em chris

 
 
#7
Tim Documatario
January 12th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I have to agree with Chris Taylor on this one, what are you thinking man!

 
 
#8
Daniel
January 12th, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Didn’t we get all that 80,000 leeching tonnes of lead from the earth anyway?

 
 
#9
Daniel
January 12th, 2011 at 9:42 pm

typo, 80,000lbs :P

 
 
#10
Kevin
January 12th, 2011 at 11:38 pm

The data seems VERY fishy to me.

I use an extremely power hungry phone a touch pro 2 windows mobile phone.

I have to charge it daily and I use it a lot. even if I used 100% of the capacity daily (and I don’t) thats only 7.5 watts a day or in one year enough power to light a 75watt bulb for 36 hours.

the idea that a 75 watt bulb uses 32 gallons in 36 hours is preposterous.

I can run my generator at 50% capacity for 36 hours on 18 gallons of gasoline and can power 33+ 75 watt bulbs in that time and the grid is far more efficient than my old gasoline generator.

 
 
#11
Mark
January 12th, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Thanks for bringing a lot of potentially misguided readers/sheep back down to earth! Seriously, how does this s**t get posted? What a dangerous vehicle the internet has become for mis-information.

 
 
#12
Nicole
January 12th, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I want to know when I can stop feeling guilty for being alive having a phone a car a job . And I eat animals too so I guess that really uses up energy..

 
 
#13
Tiera
January 12th, 2011 at 11:43 pm

This is complete BS. Not only are his calculations in error but cell-phones only use a small fraction of all generated power, and represent a mere sliver of total power use. Even if everyone reduced that, it would not result in any real savings at all because most of the power from the grid is generated at a constant rate. Here is a quote from Wikipedia :

“Baseload power plants do not change production to match power consumption demands since it is more economical to operate them at constant production levels.”

So all that energy is being generated all the time REGARDLESS of consumption level. It has to be generated so that a certain minimum level of power is available at all times. Changing the level of output is a big deal so the typically only reduce the level of generation at night, then raise it back up in the morning.

Because of constant-level production, there is actually a lot of wasted energy every day (the energy generated is not utilized 100%). If everyone got rid of their cell phones right now, less of that energy would be utilized but the reduction of demand would not be large enough to even merit the utilities making a policy decision to reduce the minimum baseload power requirement AT ALL.

 
 
#14
Craig
January 13th, 2011 at 9:36 pm

We will also help the world and recycle them as well and we will also pay you for your new or old phones at http://www.swapngreen.com

 
 
#15
Optamizm
January 15th, 2011 at 5:31 am

WOW! Makes you think…

 
 
#16
kara
January 19th, 2011 at 11:11 pm

We have a moral responsibility of saving the environment. We should have an idea about what effects we normally put on this amazing green world.

 
 
#17
Blem
January 31st, 2011 at 5:43 am

Please encourage green. A green world will impart you health.

 
 
#18
Artu
August 8th, 2013 at 6:07 am

One smartphone needs around 5 kWh per year:

http://blog.opower.com/2012/09/how-much-does-it-cost-to-charge-an-iphone-5-a-thought-provokingly-modest-0-41year/#Methodology

5kWh is equivalent to 18 MJ. Even if assume that 80% lost during electricity generation, battery charging etc, it is still only 90 MJ per year, and 5-10 kg of CO2…

 

Name (required)

E-mail (required - never shown publicly)

Web-site

Your Comment