We disassembled two very different cell phones to document the differences in components and technologies. The two phones were released 17 years apart, making them good candidates for this demonstration. The total weights of each item or material is shown in (grams) in the upper corner of each image.
There is a substantial difference in the circuit board weights as shown below. The older Qualcomm phone has circuit boards weighing 55 grams, or 25% of it’s total weight. The newer LG board only weighs 15 grams, or 12% of it’s total weight.
The batteries also vary greatly in overall size and weight. The Qualcomm battery accounts for 50% of the total weight of the phone, while the newer technology in the LG allows it to use a battery weighing only 32% of the phone’s weight.
The amount of plastic used is surprisingly similar, with the older Qualcomm’s plastic content weighing in at 14% and the newer LG at 16%. It should be noted that this stat is based entirely on which phone is used for reference. An iPhone 6 for example, with a frame constructed primarily of aluminum will feature very little plastic, roughly less than 5% by weight.
Screen size is one of the major differences between these two phones. The Qualcomm uses a tiny 1.75″ display, the LG uses a 4.5″ touchscreen. The smaller screen comes in at <5 grams, which is approximately 2% of the phone’s weight. If the more modern LG phone retained that screen:phone weight ratio, with it’s current screen the phone would weigh 2250 grams, or 4.96 pounds. Luckily, that is not the case, the LG screen comes in at 45 grams, which is 36%.
Steel is a commonly used material in cell phones, but it’s typically quite sparse. The qualcomm had it as shielding on the surface mount chips and antenna base mount, it weighed in at <5 grams, or 2%. The LG had even less, only used for shielding around the SIM/SD slots, it didn’t even register on the scale, realistically around 0.25 grams.
Miscellaneous materials such as rubber, wire, speakers, microphones, and cameras make up a small percentage of the weight. The assorted remaining items in the Qualcomm amounted to 10 grams, or approximately 5%. The LG was <5 grams, or around 4%.
We hope this detailed breakdown of components and individual weights is educational and helpful to those interested in recycling electronics. A more detailed description of mentioned materials can be seen here: What is a cell phone made of?
A detailed breakdown of a modern cell phone, to demonstrate the varying materials and manufacturing methods used in the average phone.
The relation between age and materials is evident when devices from decades apart are disassembled. Typically, the older devices will be built with more steel and thicker plastic, with much larger circuit boards and very small screens. Newer devices usually have less steel, much thinner/lighter plastics, very small circuit boards, and large screens. Two examples will be showcased in a future post to demonstrate the extensive differences and improved manufacturing methods.
Administrators have announced that Japan is planning to improve recycling processes. They will be attempting to craft the 2020 Olympic medals out of recycled materials. Rather than mine for the precious metals that make up the gold, silver, and bronze medals, they will instead look to their immense electronic waste stores.
Approximately 21 pounds of gold, 2,670 pounds of silver and 1,540 pounds of copper were needed for the London Olympics in 2012. Brazil also used some recycled materials in their medals, mostly for the silver medals and ribbons. Japan has a strong technology driven culture which should make it fairly simple to meet their goal and have plenty of cell phones and electronics to process.
Japan still does not have an established program for the public to direct electronic waste. They are currently recycling less than 25% of their outdated tech. With 4 years to plan the process of refining the raw materials for the medals, they should be able to make great advances in other aspects of their recycling initiatives.
A cell phone is made of various materials, including plastics, base metals, precious metals, and other miscellaneous components. See a more detailed breakdown below.
Polycarbonate plastic plays a large part in the production of modern cell phone bodies. This material has superior flexibility and impact resistance. It also has the upside of being very cheap to manufacture in addition to having no antenna interference. ABS and hybrid Poly ABS variations are commonly found as well.
The use of base metals for phone chassis has become more common as consumers expect higher quality materials as cell phone prices rise. Aluminum is the most common in current applications, offering higher structural rigidity and a more refined finish. One of the downsides of using aluminum is the negative effect it has on antenna reception, resulting in most aluminum bodied phones coming with an external antenna.
Consumer cell phones contain trace amounts of various precious metals. These include Silver, Nickel, Palladium, Platinum, Copper, and Gold, among others. Circuit board component manufacturing and electroplating has vastly improved. The result is thinner precious metal surface coverage. We should strive to mitigate the impact of mining these materials by responsibly recycling our consumer goods.
Glass and PMMA screens, Lithium-Ion batteries, and plastic/fiber circuit boards are all common as well. Screws and hardware can be steel or variations of a magnesium alloy. Each phone model will have differences in the use of each material.
The first, and arguably most important way to get the most out of your cell phone is to begin with a quality product. If you purchase a low-end budget cell phone, the component materials that make up the phone itself will be lower grade with a higher potential for breaking. Cheaper phones also typically have lower specs, such as slower processors, lower megapixel cameras, smaller batteries, and limited features. These limitations will inherently decrease the long-term effectiveness of the phone and it will become obsolete much more rapidly.
2. Protective case
The next obvious step is to buy a hard-case to protect your purchase. There are thousands of different brands, styles, and colors to choose from, this is up to personal preference. Usually a slim case is sufficient, but if you use your phone in harsh conditions, we recommend a more heavy-duty shock resistant case. A $20 case could save you hundreds of dollars in the long run, especially since current phones cost upwards of $600.
3. Screen protector
A screen protector is another cheap way to extend the life of your cell phone. These also range from a lightweight thin film to heavy duty Gorilla Glass alternatives. They will not only shield the screen from dirt, dust, debris, it could also save it from cracking if you drop the phone on a hard surface.
4. Over-charging battery
This tip is less important with newer phones since the charging circuits in current phones have improved along with more efficient lithium-ion batteries. If your phone is a few years old, this will benefit you in the long run. It is recommended that you unplug a phone once it has reached 100%, some batteries will over-charge and become damaged. A good indication that your battery has sustained damaged is if it shows a bloated or cracking case.
5. Liquid damage
One of the top reasons for a retired phone is exposure to liquid, which will disable most phones permanently. Being aware of your surrounding and if your phone is in close proximity to liquid is very important. You could slip into a puddle of water, accidentally knock over your coffee, be caught in heavy rain, along with many other scenarios that are common in daily life. Any number of these could lead to a damaged or disabled phone.