Sustainable Smartphones: What’s the deal?

Did you know that every year 150.000.000* mobile devices get thrown into the trash (in the United States alone)? Did you know that nearly 90% of these do not get recycled?

 

Smartphones are awesome!

But they do take their toll on the global environment. A smartphone takes up a lot of energy and valuable materials to produce, plus the people who work on your window to the world (the miners, for instance) do not always get treated fairly, or have to work under very poor and unhealthy conditions. Also, we have been conditioned into thinking that we need to throw away our phone every 18 months on average: because we want a new model, or simply because it stopped working. So even though your phone might make you happy, it does carry a lot of baggage.

The world knows that the smartphone is in many ways not a very sustainable apparatus. Yet. Luckily, many are motivated to make a change. One of the big smartphone companies in the Netherlands has created an eco-score for phones that rates phones on how sustainable a phone is. While there are some skeptical voices who criticize this action for being not more than a mere marketing action, it can definitely be seen as a step forward. And every step counts.

 

Then there is Phoneblocks

Phoneblocks is a phone, made of blocks (duh ;). The idea is that you build your own phone by combining small blocks containing the different elements of the phone –the battery, the camera, the hard drive—on a small base. You get to choose which blocks are on your phone. This means that you can customize your phone by replacing blocks that you don’t use less other blocks: if you never use your camera, you take it off your phone and replace it with extra battery, for instance. The idea behind Phoneblocks is that you don’t have to throw your phone away the moment one tiny part of it stops working. Phoneblocks wants to build a durable phone that can actually survive longer than the 18 months we talked about above.

 

Fairphone is more than fair.

Another initiative is the Fairphone, a phone that, well.. tries to be as fair as possible! The Fairphone is more of an experiment than a commercial product, although the first 25.000 phones are very much sold out as the phone was recently brought to the market. The Fairphone people try to make the phone’s entire production and distribution process as fair, sustainable and transparent as possible. This means addressing the lifespan of the phone (3 dollars of every phone is invested into e-waste recycling projects), the materials (conflict-free minerals), working conditions of the laborers involved, open and smart design, and transparent and fair prices for everyone involved. For huge smartphone companies, this is still faraway and perhaps a utopia. Fairphone hopes to set an example and be an agent of change in doing so.

So now that we are slowly realizing the drawbacks consumer society, we can also start working towards minimalizing these drawbacks. These initiatives all seem like a good start!

 

What you can do yourself?

Try to think before you get yourself the latest gadget. Why do you want it? Do you really need it? Isn’t your old phone still good enough? Do you really want a phone that is built by people in miserable conditions? Maybe I can buy a second-hand? Or perhaps you could buy a Fairphone?

*This numbers comes from this document: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures_on_EWaste_and_Recycling.pdf

 

For more information on the Fairphone and for buying one, check fairphone.com. The first Phonebloks prototype is nearly finished, follow their story on phonebloks.com.