Why buying cheap smartphone is NOT sustainable?


Mobile Phones have evolved from a basic handset to a Smartphone and with the advent of 4th/5th Generation mobile technology, Smartphones became an inevitable part of our daily life now. By next year, it is estimated that one third of world population (or maybe more) will own a Smartphone. In India, around 3 lac handsets are being sold every day, and the number is increasing the 29% each year. One of the influencing factors for this bullish trend is the small-upfront cost with high tech specifications. The recent low cost launches from the new entrants in mobile handset industry like Docoss X1 for Rs. 888/- (approx. $ $ 13), Ringing Bells for just Rs. 251 (approx. $4) and Namotel for Rs. 99 (approx. $1.5) are few under this umbrella. Rather than being happy launch of Make in India cheap phones, this news is disturbing and strike me think about “How sustainable/eco-friendly are these cheap phones”.

We talk so much about global warming, climate change, sustainable development, but when it comes to buying an electronic equipment like a “Smartphone” we just follow the price trend, and hardly pay attention to the harmful effects it produces at the end of its life. The story behind making of these cheap smartphones & its overall impact on us is worth to discuss here. Through this article, I want to point out “Why buying cheap smartphone is not eco-friendly”. But before we move to Smartphone sustainability approach, let us understand what is meant by “Sustainable Production & Consumption”.

As per UNEP, Sustainable consumption and production is to promote social, environmental and economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems by addressing and, where appropriate, delinking economic growth and environmental degradation through improving efficiency and sustainability in the use of resources and production processes; and reducing resource degradation, pollution and waste.

In short sustainable production is about taking care of environment, social and economic development simultaneously. It’s up to us and manufacturer to install sustainability in our life and production of smartphone now or later.

The manufacturing of a smartphone mostly involves materials like glass, metal, and plastic, which gets futher processed in factories, and assembly line in Africa and Asia (mostly the developing countries). Have you ever thought, why & how these cheap smartphones costings are done?


“The selling price is dependent on the raw material purchase price”


“For better quality raw material , higher price needs to be paid”

This signifies the correlation that the Lower Priced Phones are not the Best Quality Products.

It is a general buyers tendency that, while purchasing a Smart phone, design, operational ability and cost are the deciding factors. However cost has the highest weightage. For a good looking budget friendly smartphone (no-name brands) especially manufactured in China are quite eye appealing, but we unconsciously end up buying unreliable (& not-so-eco-friendly) handset. The first Chinese manufactured imported phone, my friend bought was of around Rs. 9000/- (~ $135), which comes with swanky features, 5 inch screen, 8 MP camera, wifi, latest android OS and 1.2 GHz processor, but when he started using he realised with all these good features comes with poor touch screen technology, low speed and low quality camera etc Once, it got slipped out of his hand (Oops!), his smartphone started making all sorts of funny noises and the screen got damaged beyond repair with no replacement available in the company owned service centre. So, the smart phone within a month of its use turned to an e-waste, which has got no place then the garbage bin (no recycling option too).

2.    Manufacturing Cost : – Low wages to Labour

The current competitive market where companies are trying to gain maximum market share sale, cost of smartphone plays an important role. The most challenging fact today is maintaining good quality and high features at low cost, which is definitely not possible without skilled workforce in production and supply chain.


According to a report by Hong-Kong based “Asia Monitor Resource Centre” the working conditions in Indian electronics industry are “among the worst” in world. So, as it is rightly said, skilled labour doesn’t come at low cost and low cost labour isn’t skilled.

3.    End Use Recycling?

As I mentioned about my friend’s first smartphone story, after a month usage turned into a SCRAP and he has to dump $135 phone in garbage bin (Lesson well learned for buying cheap phone). But what he did is adding to E-waste. As the prices are slashing down with frequent updation in technology and software, people are changing phones as frequently as within 6 months or less in certain cases. Who is responsible for growing amount of E-waste because it has become so easy and economical to use and throw a smartphone.

fairphone2_0As per UNEP report 40 million metric tons (MT) of e-waste is produced annually in the world, most of which is illegally dumped or traded, and about 1.7 million MT is generated by India.

Another major problem we face is lack of technology and infrastructure to effectively handle e-waste, or either processed informally leading several health issues among the labours. Most disheartening fact is around 4-5 lakhs child labours between the age group of 10-15 are observed to be engaged in this activity. And I see no aggressive policies by cheap phone manufacturers to collect old phones, to recycle and reuse them.


Of course I know, there are reasons for buying cheap smartphones than not buying. And definitely I am not encouraging you to buy expensive smartphone. But being “Responsible Consumer” (than just smartphone user), if you a cost effective smartphone you will at least think before throwing it up. Let’s work together for better future. Hope you install sustainability now, not later





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