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Mobile Phone Case Study : Comparison of ecological impacts and equivalent CO2 emissions of mobile phones marketed as 'eco-friendly' over those not marketed as 'eco-friendly'
Mobile phone users in the United State grew from 34 million to 203 million from 1999–2009 . Awareness of the material consumption, energy use and e-waste represents by this compels some consumers to purchase ‘eco-friendly’ products believing it reduces ecological impacts. Using a screening Life Cycle Assessment tool, the effectiveness of commonly employed ‘eco-friendly’ practices is evaluated.
This case study examines ecological impacts and equivalent CO2 emissions for mobile phone components, assemblies and life cycle phases to determine if 'eco-friendly' practices offer impact reductions. 'Eco-friendly' practices examined are alternative plastic housings, recycling programs, recycled packaging materials and power consumption reductions. While ‘eco-friendly’ practices offer reductions in ecological impacts, they do not significantly reduce equivalent CO2 emissions relative to phones not marketed as ‘eco-friendly’. Furthermore, it appears the most effective ‘eco-friendly’ practice is to reduce power consumption.
Examination of each practice offers insight into its effectiveness. Using recycled plastic housings
reduces ecological impacts by up to 50% over a non-recycled plastic housing due to reductions in ocean acidification. Using an approximated phone
assembly, recycling offers 66% reduction in ecological impacts and 5%
reduction in equivalent CO2 emissions over incineration. These results are limited due to caveats of take
back programs and limitations in process options found in Sustainable Minds  LCA
software. Specific packaging and
instructions scenarios that incorporate recycled feedstocks can result in more
than 90% reductions in equivalent CO2 emissions over non-recycled
feedstocks. Reductions in equivalent CO2 emissions can be 80% more those due to recycled plastic housing. Finally,
use-phase ecological impacts and equivalent CO2 emissions
overshadow those of the other practices combined. Including the worst cases of each design
practices in a combined evaluation, shows energy consumption comprises more than 80% of environmental
impacts and up to 98% of CO2 emissions. This reveals the other ‘eco-friendly’ practices offer only marginal reductions in impacts and greatest impact reductions are achieved by focusing on reductions in energy
In conclusion, considering only material, manufacturing and end-of-life phases, reducing or eliminating packaging and encouraging recycling are more effective at addressing environmental impacts and climate change than changing housing materials to recycled or bio-based plastics. Expanding the system boundaries to include use-phase, these practices have little impact. Reduction in power consumption offers the largest reduction in impacts. Each percent improvement in energy efficiency results in a corresponding reduction in impacts. Other studies, such as the 2008 paper by Scharnhorst on Telecommunications , indicate the issue is more complex, which suggests an expanded, comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment should be completed on the findings of this study.