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End Black Friday ‘upgrade madness’

Brits suffering from ‘Phone-mo’ feel pressure to upgrade to latest smartphone, despite damage to their wallets and the environment
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
White Yellow Neon Black Friday Sign Hanging on Metallic Wall

Tech-hungry Brits are expected to fork out millions on mobile phone upgrades this Black Friday (24 November).

New research from charity Population Matters shows that more than a third of UK adults (37%) are planning to buy a new handset in the annual sales promotion, rising to more than half (53%) amongst those aged 18 to 24.

The research reveals that almost one in five (19%) young people feel under pressure from retailers, influencers and friends or peers to have the latest model (compared with an average of 11% across all ages), while 40% fear missing out on a good deal on Black Friday.

In fact, 18% of 18- to 24-year-olds admit that they have experienced ‘Phone-mo’ around mobile phone upgrades – a fear of missing out on the latest upgrade deals or handset features that others have got.

This ‘Phone-mo’ is likely to be in part due to the high volume of adverts and marketing materials people receive from retailers and manufacturers at this time of year, with more than half (53%) saying they had seen an advert or received marketing materials in the past month encouraging them to upgrade their phone this Black Friday.

Around one in seven people had received five or more of these adverts and 4% of young people had received up to 10.

’Resist the pressure’

Population Matters is urging Brits to resist the pressure to upgrade their mobile phone this Black
Friday, to promote sustainability.

It is also calling on mobile phone manufacturers to stop releasing annual upgrades and on retailers to stop offering deals encouraging people to dump functional phones after just one year.

Earlier this year, the organisation released a report, iCon: Apple, consumption and the future of the planet, outlining the marketing techniques and environmental impact of Apple phones.

The research shows that many people would be open to this idea, as 44% agreed manufacturers should concentrate on making phones more long-lasting and reliable instead of adding new features.

A quarter also said that they would consider opting to refurbish their current phone, instead of buying a new one, if retailers offered promotions and incentives to do this.

‘Mobile phone manufacturers and retailers spend billions at this time of year trying to persuade us all that we need the latest, slightly tweaked, version of their product when the existing one already serves our needs. This research shows that they are succeeding – but also that people are increasingly seeing through the hype and want change.

‘Black Friday and the madness of ‘phone-mo’ upgrade culture are symptoms of an unsustainable system. Selling and buying more stuff isn’t the route to happier lives on a healthier planet. We need to reconsider our purchasing habits and ask ourselves not just can we afford it, but can the planet afford it?’

Head of campaigns and communications at Population Matters

The smartphone footprint

There are many negative environmental effects associated with smartphone production including the impact of extraction and processing of elements such as copper and aluminium; the carbon emissions associated with design, manufacture, distribution and disposal of the products (including recycling) and resulting e-waste.

As an example, Apple facilities alone used 1.4 billion gallons of water in 2021/22, of which almost
90% is freshwater, primarily from municipal sources.

It has also been calculated that if Apple stopped selling hardware in 2021, about 80% of it would become obsolete and therefore discarded as 200,000 metric tonnes of waste.

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