Your Smartphone Comes with a Heavy Environmental Price Tag - But it Doesn’t Have To

28 April 2021
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We use our phones to stay connected to the world around us. We use them to socialize, work, listen to music, shop, get directions, recipes, and advice. We even use them to track our fitness, our food, and even our litter. But did you know that we can also use our phones to help combat climate change and move towards a more circular economy? Well, we can. In this blog post, we’re going to explore sustainable phone options. But first. Let’s look at some statistics.

A massive 91.9% of iPhone users stick to Apple when they’re due for their next upgrade (only 8.1% would switch to a different brand). The numbers are high for Samsung users too, with 74% of them sticking to the brand (although, 26% of them would consider a different option). So, why are those percentages so high? Well, there’s brand loyalty, of course. And then there’s the familiarity aspect. Why learn a new system when the current one is perfectly fine? Basically, users simply have no reason to switch. But we do. A big one.

The Real Cost of Your Smartphone
According to the World Economic Forum, only 35% of all e-waste is collected for recycling, and smartphones make up a huge chunk of that percentage (3.5 billion people use smartphones around the world). When it comes to the negative environmental effects of e-waste, nothing ranks quite as high. The mining and manufacturing process alone accounts for around 80% of a smartphone’s carbon footprint (the energy and material it takes to create a single component is staggering). But we’re going to focus on what happens in a smartphone’s afterlife. Or more accurately, what doesn’t happen. Besides the fact that many people often don’t actually know how or where to recycle their smartphones…

Smartphones are Difficult to Recycle
And with each new design upgrade, that difficulty increases. Why? Well, think about how lightweight your current smartphone is. That’s because it has fewer components, and those components are tiny (and often glued together). What does this mean? The fewer, and smaller the components in a smartphone are, the harder (and more expensive) it is to take apart and recycle. The good news is, there are sustainable options. Enter the modular phone.

Your Smartphone Come with a Heavy Environmental Price Tage_Body Image Blog

What is a Modular Smartphone?
As the name suggests, this type of phone is made of ‘modules’ (or components). This makes it the easiest type of smartphone to repair and upgrade (they’re easy to open and take apart, without fancy tools). Say you drop your phone and the screen cracks. All you need to do is replace the screen. Less electronic waste, lower repair costs.

Now. A modular phone might not have the sleek exterior you’re used to, but the reason for that makes it worth it (the ‘modules’ or components are bigger and separated for easy access and removal). What about quality and cost?

The Quality and Costs Implications of Going Modular
There isn’t much difference in performance between a modular phone and a more mainstream phone. And the truth is, there isn’t much cost difference either. Initially. But if you think about the money saved on repairs and upgrades (modular parts are less expensive, and you can repair your phone yourself, saving time and service fees) and add to that the environmental benefits, the savings add up. Now let’s look at two examples of modular phones.

First up: Fairphone
“Together we can change the way products are made”. That’s one of the main messages on Fairphone’s website and we couldn’t agree more (to build a circular economy, we need to change the way products are made). Founded in the Netherlands in 2013, Fairphone make smartphones that last. Beyond that, they make smartphones that are easy to repair. 

Fairphone also take into consideration the afterlife of their smartphones (another really important aspect of the circular circular). How? By sending used phones to Teqcycle for refurbishment and recycling. Fairphone is a good option to look into when the time comes.

Next up: Teracube
"Small changes can make a huge impact" (Sharad Mattel, Teracube founder). Another impact statement we agree with. The Teracube comes with a 4-year warranty (this covers all parts, performance, labor, and shipping), a replaceable battery (this is a big selling point, because one of the main reasons people discard their phones is poor battery performance), a biodegradable case, and a high-quality camera. Oh, and if you choose this option, Teracube plant a tree for every phone they sell. Another great option to look into.

Let’s Recap: The 3 Main Benefits of a Modular Phone

1. They last long (up to five years).

2. They are easy to upgrade and repair (you can replace parts with basic tools, with the help of online tutorials).

3. They cost less (the phone itself costs the same, but you save over time because it lasts longer, plus parts are less expensive, and you can install them yourself).

4. They lower your environmental impact (you reduce the amount of waste you put out there and, when it is time to upgrade, they are easy to recycle).

Now. Not everyone can run out and trade in their current smartphone for a modular one. And that’s a good thing (remember, the most sustainable phone is the one you already own) but if you’re phone really has seen better days, we suggest exploring more sustainable options and potentially opting for a new generation of smartphone. One that lasts longer, is easy to repair, and carries a lower carbon footprint than any other mainstream one out there right now.

Do you have a Fairphone or Teracube? We’d love to hear your review!




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