New research reveals Brits suffering from ‘Phone-mo’ and feeling pressure to upgrade to latest smartphone, despite damage to their wallets and the environment
Black Friday Release
• Billions likely to be spent on latest upgrades this Black Friday as polling shows more than half of 18–24-year-olds surveyed are planning to buy a new handset in the annual sales promotion
• If 53% of all 18–24-year-olds in the UK went ahead and bought the new iPhone 15, it would cost £2.8bn and generate 156 million kg of carbon emissions, the equivalent of driving 1.8 trillion miles in an average petrol-powered car1
• Pressure from retailers, influencers and friends/peers, along with fear of missing out on a good deal all contributing to ‘Phone-mo’ around upgrades
• Four-in-ten say “upgrade culture” is just a way of getting people to spend more money when they don’t need to.
• Population Matters is urging people to resist the pressure to upgrade and calling on manufacturers and retailers to end “upgrade madness”
Tech-hungry Brits are expected to fork out millions on mobile phone upgrades this Black Friday as 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 to an average of 11% across all ages), whilst 40% fear missing out on a good deal on Black Friday. In fact, 18% of 18–24-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 ten.
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.
Alistair Currie, head of campaigns and communications comments:
“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?”
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 along used 1.4 billion gallons of water in 2021/22, of which almost 90% is freshwater, primarily from municipal sources.2 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.3
For more information about the campaign visit
Notes to editors
• The research was undertaken by One Poll in November 2023 and surveyed 2,000 adults from across the UK
- Based on 53% of the estimated 5,382,000 people in the UK aged 18-24 buying the iPhone 15 at an RRP of £1,000. An iPhone 15 accounts for around 56kg of CO2 emissions so if 53% of those aged 18 to 24 in the UK purchased one, it would amass to 156 million kg of carbon emissions, the equivalent of driving 1.8 trillion miles in an average petrol-powered car
- Referenced in Population Matters’ iCon report
- Kingsley, Adrian. “Apple’s colossal e-waste timebomb.” ZDNET, 2 February 2021, https://www.zdnet.com/article/apples-colossal-e-waste-timebomb/
About Population Matters
Population Matters is a UK-based charity working globally to achieve a sustainable future for people and planet. Our mission is to drive positive, large-scale action through fostering choices that help achieve a sustainable human population and regenerate our environment.