Three laughing students using their cell phones in a park

There is a growing global e-waste issue as more and more people own an increasingly large array of devices. To help put the scale of the problem in perspective, consider that there are an estimated 3.5 billion smartphones in the world. Then, think about how frequently people in more affluent countries upgrade their phones.

From a waste management standpoint, the good news is that Americans are waiting longer to replace their phones than they were just a few years ago. Although yearly upgrades are becoming less popular, the average iPhone is active for just 18 months and the average Samsung phone for 16.4 months. The huge price tag and fewer groundbreaking new features make upgrading less appealing.

Hanging onto the same phone is beneficial for numerous reasons, and it is certainly more sustainable. Let’s explore how to extend the life of your cell phone and keep it running in tip-top shape.

Remove unneeded apps and files

Is your phone acting sluggish? If so, deleting unneeded apps and files can help boost its performance. Freeing up storage space can give your phone an instant facelift with relatively minimal effort. Start by identifying storage hogs, like unused videos, photos, and apps. Many people have apps that they’ve used only once, often outnumbering apps used on a regular basis. Video files can be quite large and can either be moved or deleted if no longer needed.

Power down periodically

Many of us use our phones numerous times throughout the day but don’t really give them much time to truly rest. Shutting off your phone basically clears the RAM, shuts down open apps, and plugs memory leaks. It’s recommended to do this once a week and allow it to stay off for a minute before firing it back up.

Get a tempered glass screen protector and a protective case

Having a scratch on your cell phone screen can be highly aggravating. Oddly, purchasing a screen protector has become an especially complicated task because there are nearly endless options and sizes. You need to find a compatible one that fits your phone and that you can live with, yet is effective. Although not a favorite of all, tempered glass does a pretty good job of protecting screens and providing some drop protection.

Likewise, a protective case also guards your phone against a myriad of calamities. Look for a case that covers the corners, sides, and back of the phone for the best protection.

Pick a cell phone model with a high repairability score

Some smartphones are nearly impossible to fix or even replace the battery. Certain phones have the covers stubbornly glued on or require a proprietary tool, making it difficult to make even the simplest repairs. Yet, some devices are much less troublesome. These models do not require proprietary tools, have batteries that are easy to replace, and contain modular components.

Consider repairability before you shop for your next phone and use the iFixit Smartphone Repairability scores for guidance. iFixit ranks phones on a scale from 1 to 10. Of the phones with a 2020 release, the highest-ranking is a 6. Thus, the iPhone SE 2020, Google Pixel 4a, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 mini, and iPhone Pro Max are at the top of the repairability list.

Replace the battery if needed

According to Apple, the average iPhone battery lasts about 500 full recharging cycles before battery performance declines. Depending on how much we use our phones, this is usually about 8 to 16 months. It is natural to consider replacing the phone when the battery bites the dust, but resist this temptation if your phone is otherwise in good condition and you can replace the battery.

This is when a low repairability score can come back to haunt us. Some batteries are extremely difficult to change while others are relatively simple. Do a bit of research to determine if it is within your skillset. The iFixit website has a repair guide for phones, with specific information depending on the model.

Resist pressure to upgrade your phone

Many cell phone companies encourage you to get a new phone by offering promotions, easy payment plans, or even saying it is required. Even if you do need to update your phone, find out how soon. For example, AT&T notified customers that they needed to update their devices a year and a half in advance. Other companies have been known to tell customers they needed a new device, yet a supervisor said otherwise when queried.

Feature image by Keira Burton, Pexels

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.