‘Oh look, the new iPhone’s out – time to upgrade I guess.’
Sound familiar? It might be time to think again. E-waste is our fastest growing waste stream, with smartphones being thrown out every 20 months on average. But on the other hand, it’s not easy to find a sustainable phone where the battery can be replaced, or to save that phone that somehow slipped into the washing up.
You might wonder if there’s even such a thing as an ethical and sustainable phone – and so did the team at Fairphone, which is why they took on the challenge to change this.
This Amsterdam-based company wanted to build a modular phone with minimal harm to the planet and its people. They acknowledge that it can’t be 100% fair or recyclable, but they’re doing their best and also want to raise awareness on the way.
A phone doesn’t just appear; there are hundreds of people involved in its production and multiple stages and chains. Fairphone have looked, and continue to look, at all stages of the production cycle to combat not only electronic waste, but also conflict materials such as the cobalt that is mined in the Congo using child labour.
Above: Cobalt mining in the Congo has often been associated with child labour (Photo credit: Julien Harneis)
At first glance it looks like your average smartphone. It’s an Android phone with 32G storage, 5 inch display and a range of colours. Because of the modular design (which essentially means lots of different components), it’s easy to repair so you can get out of that ‘drop and then replace’ cycle. If your fingers are delicate enough, you can easily repair it yourself.
Above: The modular design of the Fairphone make it much easier to repair (Photo credit: Tobias Isakeit)
The team at Fairphone have set up traceable supply chains to source conflict-free materials. Tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold are often conflict minerals, but not in this case. In case you do need to say goodbye to one of their phones, you can feel confident in the knowledge that Fairphone have invested in and researched recycling practices.
OK, we know you use your phone a lot so even if you’re loving all this you might have one more important question: is it actually a good phone? Breathe a sigh of relief, because it is. We’ll be honest, it’s not sleek and shiny; as a modular phone, it’s going to be a bit chunky.
Above: The Fairphone 2 has all the functionality of a regular smartphone
However, there’s lots of storage, dual SIM capability (perfect for spies!) and an intuitive interface to add to the ‘pros’. It’s reliable and it should last you 5 years – well over double the average life cycle of a phone. And if you drop it, this one isn’t going to break!Of course, as appealing as this sustainable phone is, the best way to reduce wast is not to buy a new smartphone at all – but just keep this one in mind for next time!