The iPhone 5 And An Environmental Wake Up Call

Just in case you haven’t heard the news – although, I’m doubtful you could have missed it – Apple’s new iPhone 5 was announced the other day to much fanfare. Taller, slimmer, lighter, and judging by the hype capable of leaping a small building whenever it wants, the new iPhone will be in the hands of millions of customers any day now. Most will think this is a good thing, but there’s a part of me that just hates the whole thing.

To be perfectly frank, I will be upgrading my iPhone this time around as well. I have been using the same 3GS for over three years now and it barely makes phone calls anymore, never mind allow me to text my friends or guide me to my destination. But a little part of me is terribly disappointed in this new phone because of the environmental impact this changeover will have. It’s not just that millions of phones will be tossed or discarded; it’s that for the first time since the iPhone was introduced, most all of the accessories will be, too.

People have often had to replace their iPhone cases each time they got a new phone because the body shape changed a few times. Each time a new body was introduced, millions of plastic cases were thrown away. This was bad, but I guess it’s part of the price of advancing technology. This time around, Apple decided to change the charging/plug-in connector port size to something much different, thereby making every accessory that uses the old size completely obsolete. Let’s think about this for a moment; most every cable, charger, dock, dock port, radio, car radio, or other adaptor designed for use with prior generation iPhones will need to be tossed and replaced. Sure, a special adapter will be introduced by Apple and some third-party vendors allowing hook-ups, but it’s more than likely you’ll have to shell out a few bucks for each of them and buy one for every iPhone connector you already have in your life.

What a waste.

Looking past the end of our own noses, we can see that many other industries will be affected by this change as well. Hotels with iPhone and iPod-ready radios and TVs will have to upgrade all of them to the new standard. Car manufacturers, who for years have been working on making our iDevices work flawlessly with their car stereo and GPS systems, will now be asked by their customers to change out every single adapter plug in millions of their cars. Where does all this equipment go? Most of it, unfortunately, will not be recycled and instead will be thrown in the trash, where it will head to a local landfill to sit for eternity.

Most of the mobile phone industry has already moved to – or is moving to – a standard micro-USB charging format. Apple? They went their own way, leaving an environmental mess in their wake. The company has taken a lot of flack for some business practices in China, but this connector port change will have long-lasting effects of an environmental kind. When a company with the number of customers Apple has goes against the grain and changes one little thing that changes everything, well, you have to wonder if our support of such activity puts the blame squarely on us. We as a society should not be in a big hurry to update our technology every 6 to 12 months, period. Maybe we need to encourage companies to do the right thing rather than the new thing.

I’m updating my phone in a few weeks, as I still believe the iPhone offers the best experience for a smartphone and it syncs perfectly with my entire digital life. I hope to keep this phone for at least as long as I have kept my current one, minimizing the amount of waste I would produce by upgrading every year or so to the latest and greatest. It’s the least I can do in this connected world we live in and I hope you’ll join me in trying to make our gadgets last just a little bit longer.

What do you think about technology advances and their environmental impact?


The iPhone 5 And An Environmental Wake Up Call — 25 Comments

  1. In answer to your question – I’m a little bit torn about the impact of technology on the environment.
    On one hand – I hate rampant consumerism. If you don’t need it then why waste your money on it?

    On the other – I have a soft spot for learning about and experiencing new technologies.

    So long as things can be recycled or reused it doesn’t bother me as much.

  2. Great point. I had not thought of the environmental impact. I think it would behoove a company the size of Apple to consider these things when launching a new product. I think something can also be said for all the money they’re causing people to spend on the new accessories that should not need to be spent.

  3. Damn. I never thought of this. People can recycle old electronics, so that’s good. And I got my phone off a website specific for old cell phones; people put their old phones up with a price, the website verifies that they’re not stolen, and wham, you get an “old” phone at a cheap price. THese kinds of things would help when new stuff comes out. But man, wouldn’t it be great if comapnies thought about the waste that their new products make when people ditch their old products? It’d be cool if the iphone people had some sort of trade-in deal. “Give us your old phone for recycling or for parts, and we’ll give you the new phone at a $10 discount” or something.

  4. I’m curious why your just 3-year old iPhone “barely makes phone calls anymore, never mind allow me to text my friends or guide me to my destination.” Seems to me that a telephone costing hundreds of dollars might be functional a bit longer, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

  5. I really hate thinking about electronic devices and their environmental impact. It’s something that can’t be avoided (I guess) but when a company makes a deliberate decision to make more waste in the name of profits, that I can’t abide. I have an android phone, I love it, and I don’t plan on hoping on the iPhone bandwagon any time soon.

  6. This makes me sad. I wish that companies would take the environmental impact of these changes into consideration and consider making new phones that can use the old equipment. Of course, they want to sell new equipment so it is in their best interest to not care.

    • It is a double sword really. They want to make profit but they also have to look after the future of this planet. If they don’t no one will be around to sell products too.

      It makes me sad how wasteful we have gotten with technology. Do we really need to change things as frequently as we do.?!

  7. Well, completely agree that this is very wastful – but this is how a company innovates and maximises profit by developing platforms. What can we do about it? One way to go a to boicot these companies – on the other hand we all want their gadgets. So…

    • It’s true. There is quite a conflict. At least they could start making their new products out of recycled materials. They could also be more active on requiring old products to be returned for recycling. They could make an incentive for people to do this. There are always things they could try.

  8. Apple has a long history for only being able to use “Apple” products. They think it makes them special and it costs the consumer a lot of money to keep up with them. But many consumers HAVE to use Apple products because of the name-sake. It is very wasteful in the end because often you can’t just upgrade one part of the system, you have to start from scratch.

  9. Wow I didn’t think of the environmental impact, I just thought of how I will have to buy all new plugs and cords and accessories. That being said though, I think there’s always a market for outdated technology in other countries. i don’t think these accessories will go to waste, they’ll be donated or sold to people in other parts of the world who will enjoy them.

  10. I got a new phone a few weeks ago. I totally would have kept my old one but it had stopped being useful – often it would just turn itself off, or freeze while starting. For the last few weeks, I had to stuff it in the freezer to cool it down when it started to overheat. Sigh.

  11. Great point. If we stop wanting the new stuff we would reduce landfills. I think even re-engineering the materials they use to make the products and utilize recycled materials would be a big step. I too just ordered a new phone because my last one is almost dead.

  12. Usually Apple has a clear reason for what they do, and as often as not it has to do with maintaining the walled-garden users and developers have to live in (to use an Apple product). I don’t seem them being any more or any less eco-friendly. In truth, for everyone like you who has used an iPhone 3GS for 3 yrs, there are 10 Android users who have bought multiple phones in that same period, which of course will lead to increased enviro impact.

  13. The technology is changing very fast, every 6 months there are new products on the shelves of supermarket in all over the world and these changes are leaving a huge impact on our environment and this is a great waste.

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