Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.
Recently, AppleInsider published a story titled “Nearly 30% of Apple’s first-gen iPhones are still in use – report“. In short, the report mentions several statistics regarding the first generation iPhone. Please keep in mind that the first iPhone was released in June 2007, only to be replaced by the iPhone 3G in July 2008. That means that this phone was marketed (very well, if I remember correctly) for a mere 13 months. The first generation iPhone sold 6.1 million units, which were most likely all purchased within those 13 months. After all, why would someone want to buy an old version of a phone, if the newer, cooler, faster, sleeker model is available for a similar price?
The report names several other statistic, but I want to focus on the main statistic here. 30% of first generation iPhones are still being used. This means that 1.83 million first generation iPhones are still in use. And yes, that is a large number. However, 4.27 million is a greater number – this represents the amount of first generation iPhones that are no longer in use. What happened to these phones? Did they break? Did they suffer a fall that rendered them incapable of functioning correctly? I bet this happened only rarely. Instead, Apple came out with a new product. This product was superior to the previous generation of Apple products. If my memory serves me correctly, since the introduction of the first generation iPhone, the world has also been introduced to two more generations of iPhones, as well as the iTouch and the brand new iPad. (And in related news: Apple Sold 1 million iPads in a month!)
While these new gadgets are a lot of fun, I am concerned about our lasting impact on the environment. The resources and natural capital needed to make these products is expensive, as well as environmentally hazardous. More importantly, the vast disposal and often improper disposal methods increase our need for a more sustainable system. However, Electronics Recyclers International CEO John Shegerian seems to disagree with me. In the article “Why the E-Waste Industry Love the iPad“, he mentions that this the iPad is a good thing.
I wonder if it is possible to allow designers to be creative and create new products, which would add to existing gadgets, instead of creating a desire for increased disposal and consumption of new products? Even if Apple, or any other electronics designer and manufacturer, would introduce a new performance-based, rather than product-based, model for their business and industry. We still have to convince consumers that a cell phone, computer, or other electronic device can function to its full potential by simply maintaining the equipment, similar to the way you maintain your car, and possibly upgrading to a few new features. This would allow us to use our new gadgets until they actually fail, instead of only lasting as long as we think they are fun. For example, when the seats in your car start to wear down, do you get rid of your car and purchase a new one? Why can’t we have the same model for our electronics?
Apple is obviously concerned about their impact on the environment, as they have published information about the carbon emissions related to their products. By performing such analyses, one only hopes that Apple designers and engineers will be able to make products which will improve their products by leaving a lower environmental footprint. But I do want to encourage Apple and other electronic recyclers to research the life cycle impacts of their products, and consider not only the design of their products, but also the lasting environmental impact their products will leave on the Earth and future generations.