It's increasingly difficult to imagine a world without smartphones. Despite only having been around since the mid-2000s, there are now a staggering five billion smartphone users in the world. These users, in turn, are powering a vast industry of miners and manufacturers, data centres and servers. But what exactly is the environmental impact of the smartphone?

The costs of smartphone use

At first glance, things don't look good. Manufacturing a smartphone begins with mining the rare materials that go inside. This mining represents around 90% of the device's CO2 emissions over two years, meaning just the act of buying a new smartphone is equivalent to running an old one for a decade. In actual fact, most people keep their phones for around two years before upgrading. Over 100 million smartphones are disposed of each year, but less than a quarter of these are recycled. And in between buying and disposing of your smartphone, the servers and data centres that power your tweets, selfies and snaps emit huge quantities of C02. 

The benefits of smartphone use

So, does the smartphone industry's huge toxic cloud have any silver linings? Well, to begin with, things are getting better. While data centres and servers may account for nearly half of the overall carbon footprint of the information and communication industry, eco-friendly companies like Apple are taking note and pledging to switch to renewable energy sources to power their operations. And there are many things individual users can do to offset their smartphone's carbon footprint, too. 

Firstly, resisting the urge to upgrade immediately - even if only for an extra year - can drastically reduce your emissions. So can charging your phone using renewable energy, either by buying a solar-powered charger or by switching to cleaner energy across your whole household. Using your smartphone more can also be eco-friendly if you're using it in place of a power-hungry desktop PC. 

Most importantly of all, smartphones provide unprecedented access to new information and ideas. A wealth of knowledge is just a scroll, swipe and tap away, and innovative developers have made it even easier to access this information in interesting new ways. Here at Virtue Gaming, for example, we're taking mobile gaming and turning it into an opportunity to make a real, positive difference to the environment. Perhaps, then, it isn't quite time to ditch your smartphone just yet.