Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: An Energy Efficient Phone Is a Happy Phone

It’s Easy Being Green: An Energy Efficient Phone Is a Happy Phone

How to get more from your cell phone battery and other tips for wiser cell energy use.

The cell phone—a handy device with energy-saving potential. (AP/Manu Fernandez)
The cell phone—a handy device with energy-saving potential. (AP/Manu Fernandez)

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Cell phones are nearly ubiquitous in the United States: eMarketer estimates that 76.5 percent of Americans had them in 2009, or 235 million people. They’re devices many of us have come to rely on, and with a few small steps we can turn them into energy-saving machines.

Preserve your phone’s battery. The more life you stretch out of your cell battery the less you have to charge it and the less energy you use. Minimize watching video or taking flash photos, turn down your screen brightness, take your phone off vibrate, and avoid exposing the phone to extreme temperatures. All of these activities drain battery power.

Charge your battery properly. Charging your battery improperly can cause it to drain more quickly or display the remaining power inaccurately. A good rule is to let the battery fully discharge when you first get the phone and do so occasionally after for nickel batteries. For lithium batteries, let it discharge to about 40 percent before recharging. The type of battery you have is usually marked right on the battery itself.

Unplug your charger when it’s not in use. Phone chargers—just like TVs or other appliances in “standby” mode—continue to drain energy when they’re plugged in. By one estimate only 5 percent of the power drawn by a cell phone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95 percent is wasted when it’s left plugged into the wall.

Power up with solar. Solar chargers are coming down in cost and can power smaller gadgets like cell phones without having to plug them into the wall. Before buying one shop around to find the best price, and make sure the charger can generate enough watts to adequately feed your gadget. Also, look at how long it takes charge up. If you don’t live in a sunny area it may take days before you have enough juice to power your gadget.

Use your phone’s alarm clock. Chances are your phone has an alarm clock. You can unplug and recycle your traditional alarm clock at home and use your cell phone for this function instead.

Use GPS. If your phone has a GPS you can use this to quickly find destinations when driving, saving you time, gas use, and emissions.

Seek out more efficient phones and chargers. Slowly but surely greener cell phones are creeping into the marketplace. Some of them use recycled plastic for the casing and have energy-saving features. Look for chargers with the ENERGY STAR label, which are on average 30 percent more efficient than conventional chargers.

Recycle your old phone. Cell phones have a number of different metals in them that can be recycled—such as copper, gold, silver, and palladium—and recycling them reduces mineral mining and transportation emissions. Americans are getting more excited about cell phone recycling—in 2007 approximately 14 million of them recycled their used phones.

It’s getting easier to recycle old phones, too. Many organizations including cell phone manufacturers, retailers, network carriers, charities, and state or local solid waste programs offer cell phone donation and recycling programs.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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