It’s time for virtual spring cleaning in your phone

It's time for virtual spring cleaning in your phone

© Jorg Greuel
A mobile phone.

It’s time to air out your best friend in containment: the cell phone. The opportunity to reflect on its consumption, and to reduce its impact.

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“Your storage space is full.” Are you attacked by this alert message as soon as you open your phone? Did you know that in addition to being particularly annoying, this saturation of the internal memory of your device is a source of pollution? Let’s see how to ventilate our virtual space a little, because the drop in consumption – especially of data – also goes through this!

Internet access, data storage, electric recharging … Not to mention the raw materials used to build these devices before they reach our pocket, the little-known pollution of your phone is more or less the same as that of your computer. It remains difficult to establish an environmental assessment without appeal: the size of the files exchanged (SMS, internet search, streaming video playback), the network chosen (wifi or 4G), the distance and the power of the servers storage (the very energy-consuming “Data centers”) are all fluctuating elements that vary our final consumption without us even realizing it. However, with the explosion of our digital business, data centers, which are not immaterial and must be continuously cooled, are multiplying.

Admittedly, in the case of a telephone, the use phase has significantly less impact than that of manufacturing or that of reprocessing of waste… but there are a few areas (in addition to the act of purchase) on which the user keeps the hand. According to the Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe), the energy consumption of a smartphone varies between 2 and 7 kW per year. This is equivalent, according to EDF 2 to 7 days of using a combination refrigerator (see here how to make your fridge eco-friendly).

So what to do? We can for example keep some information in mind to better use our smartphone. A laptop plugged in overnight cuts off recharging when it reaches 100% … then undergoes regular small recharges as soon as it loses battery, as we explained in a previous column. When in use, if the network is bad, the phone battery is much more stressed. Then, the successive generations of network (Edge, 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G) are more and more energy-consuming. Finally, all uses are not equivalent. A video takes up more space in storage and loading than a photo or a text message, the size of email attachments or the quality of a music file vary consumption. So: watching a video on a train when the network is bad logically consumes more than sending a text from home, for example. In short, we can take care to reduce consumption and take care to maximize the autonomy of the phone.

To use it more “soberly”, why not turn it off or put it in airplane mode overnight to save battery. When you are not using it: deactivate the GPS, wifi and bluetooth functions. Set up a faster standby … keeping in mind that “half-on” devices continue to accumulate unnecessary wear and tear. Some applications can also be used in “offline” mode which limits data consumption. Another tip: deactivate unused applications that continue to run and consume mobile data “in the background”, while you are doing everything else. Some applications are sometimes synchronized by default and therefore connected continuously.

Swift sweep

It is then time to go around your applications precisely, they are often the ones that take up the most space. Which do you use very regularly? Which ones haven’t you used in a long time? To them, and especially to the larger ones, it is time to say goodbye. (On a personal note, on the 42 icons on my phone’s desktop, I was able to delete seven without hesitating while writing this article.) For pre-installed apps that cannot be deleted: it is possible to deactivate them .

Clearing the cached data also saves space. These temporary data are kept by the applications. Please note: the data linked to your account (identifiers, passwords) will be deleted. Also in the same vein, hunt all unnecessary downloaded files (specialized applications will save you from searching yourself) and put in the trash all gifs, videos, missed selfies lying around or which are archived in two different places . Because if this data is immaterial, it still needs electricity to store it.

After a good sorting and for the information to keep, we can free ourselves from cloud and data centers using USB sticks suitable for telephones. They certainly consume a lot of energy for their manufacture but do not then ask for more for use.

Last tip: try to give your phone a long life. We change smartphones on average every two years and in 88% of cases in France, it still works. The manufacture and end of life of each piece of equipment represents a huge stock of raw materials, the extraction of which in this case is very polluting and is often done under deplorable working conditions. But that’s not all, once purchased, the phone must be transported. And once thrown away it is an additional waste that is particularly complex to treat.

Little bonus info for your next purchase: “The larger the screen size of a smartphone, the higher the environmental impact”, says Ademe.


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