Eco-Electronics 101: Sustainable Smartphones

Last week we did a post about e-waste and sustainable electronics. Without trying to depress you too much about the major problem of electronic garbage, we gave you sustainable brands for computers, headphones, and phones as alternatives to conventional ones. But to be honest with you, phones have become the tech staple of all tech staples for many peeps so we thought we’d do a post dedicated solely to freaking you out about just how unsustainable they are.

JK - but we are gonna give you more deets on the emerging sustainable cell phone industry. ALDA may be more focused on outdoor recreation and adventure life than scrolling instagram, but we use smartphones too!

Technology in general, including cell phones, is definitely a noob in the area of sustainability. But as we pointed out last time, tackling e-waste is most def a conversation worth having. So without further ado, here’s the tea on sustainable phones:

 01. The Fairphone

fair phone.jpg

Fairphone gets the #1 slot because so far as we can tell it’s the only mobile phone company challenging the conventional process of how phones are made. Most phones are made from materials that are mined unsustainably and unethically while using nonrenewable energy, and that’s not touching on the fact that they’re designed to be thrown away.

So with that depressing news aside, enter the Fairphone! They’re basically the anarchists of the cell phone industry and here’s why:

  • The Fairphone is built to last

  • The company offers replacement parts to repair damaged phones

  • Materials to make the phone are sourced responsibly

  • The phones are created ethically

  • They have a take back program for reusing and recycling discarded Fairphones

That basically ticks EVERY box in the sustainability diagram you guys! I suppose it’s a bit costly at around $600 USD, but that’s nothing compared to the $999 and $699 price tag of the iPhone X and iPhone 8.

Major downside for most of the planet: It’s only sold in Europe. I mean, at least you save the emissions that would come from having it shipped internationally, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a Fairphone U.S.? Fingers crossed that they’ll ship across the pond eventually (or better yet, have a U.S. base to save on those emissions) - and hopefully sooner rather than later.

02. The PuzzlePhone

Puzzle pHone.jpg

Okay, so this one’s also kind of a bummer because not only does it not ship globally, it hasn’t actually been made yet. The PuzzlePhone is currently a concept phone with the goal of being made with the help of crowdfunding. What sets the PuzzlePhone apart is that, as the name suggests, it can be compiled and taken apart like a puzzle (for grownups):

  • Like the Fairphone, it’s built to last

  • It has 3 parts that are easily removed, replaced, repaired, or upgraded

The company mentions wanting to use “eco-friendly” materials to make the phone but uhhhhh...doesn’t exactly go into details so we aren’t gonna tick that sustainability box just yet. It also mentions being created in Finland and other European areas, but contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t actually ensure it was made ethically.

Also, since it’s out of Finland, who’s to say if it’ll be available to those of us stateside and elsewhere? Their crowdfunding page mentions that their business model is “replicable elsewhere”, which is dope, but not a guarantee that it will be replicated elsewhere. But hey! At least sustainability could happen somewhere, right?

The point is it’s not a flawless concept so far as we can tell, but baby steps y’all!

03. Other

To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be other phone companies that compare to the Fairphone and PuzzlePhone business and tech models, so while we wait for those types of ideas to become more mainstream, we have to suffice with what we have. How do we do that?

  • Try not to get sucked into the habit of buying a new phone every year or every other year. Yes, phones have planned obsolescence, but keeping the one you have now for as long as possible more sustainable than trading it in for the newest model ASAP.

  • If you do have to get rid of your phone, donate it to a recycling, repurposing, or reusing program to avoid contributing to the global e-waste problem.

  • Support campaigns like PuzzlePhone to help normalize environmentally friendly phones. Phonebloks is another concept in need of support so it can actually be created. If you’re not in areas where these phones would be available, it can seem like a bitch to let go of money on something you may not directly benefit from but...bigger picture and all that?

  • As far as new phones go, we mentioned in our last post the more (but not completely) sustainable brands that you can get (in the U.S. at least. Sorry other countries…)

  • If you can’t be bothered to read that whole post though, the gist of it is (at least as far as ethical manufacturing goes) that Fairphone, Blackberry, NEC, and Nokia are your best bet. HTC, Honor, Huawei, LG, and Motorola are your “eh, not bad” bet. And Mi, OnePlus, Sony, Google Pixel, and yes, iPhone and Samsung - the gods of smartphones - are your shittiest options.

    • Fun fact: apparently the U.S. gov discourages Americans from buying Huawei because of concern about spy potential from China. So if you ever wanted to live out that espionage dream, now may be your chance!

  • Ditch modern life and technology all together. Not the most popular option, but if you’re the mountain man (or woman...or other…) type, maybe this one’s for you! (At least you’d get to avoid twitter wars and facebook rants)

So on that note, it’s pretty obvious that we have a long way to go in sustainable technology (sadly). But! Improvements are being made, so if more of us pay attention maybe they’ll hurry their asses up until “sustainable phone” is something you’ll be able to say without getting a blank stare in return.

And although the connection between technology and the environment isn’t obvious, try to remember that using tech responsibly is in fact a way to #protectyourwild.

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By Darian Williams, ALDA's Blog and Digital Marketing Specialist Intern