Explore the global impact of electronic waste and Fairphone’s mission to revolutionize smartphone sustainability.
Electronic waste, recognized as the most rapidly expanding waste category globally, accumulates at an alarming rate. The United Nations Environment Programme reveals that around 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually, surpassing the combined weight of all commercial airplanes ever manufactured. Shockingly, a mere 20% of this waste undergoes recycling.
The towering heap of electronic waste burgeons alongside the escalating desire for portable gadgets and smartphones. Projections from the World Economic Forum suggest that by 2050, the yearly production of e-waste will surge beyond twofold, reaching a staggering 120 million tonnes.
Fairphone Brings Sustainable Smartphone
Van Abel, one of the co-founders of Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, asserts the creation of ‘the world’s most sustainable smartphone.’ However, given the intricate nature of the product, incorporating rare materials and components sourced globally, questions arise about the genuine sustainability of a smartphone.
Established in Amsterdam in 2013, Fairphone specializes in crafting Android smartphones designed for effortless exchange, customization, and repair by their users. The company aims to combat electronic waste by empowering individuals to repair their phones instead of discarding them once a component malfunctions.
‘Enabling phones to be easily repaired extends their lifespan significantly,’ Van Abel states. It’s a straightforward equation: by doubling the phone’s usage duration, we halve both the production of phones and the resulting waste.
Fairphone’s core mission revolves around sustainability. The brand uses 100% recycled plastic, as well as fairtrade gold and silver in all its phones.
However, despite efforts towards sustainability, not all materials integrated into Fairphone models meet sustainable criteria. Within the Fairphone 5, a compilation of 40 distinct materials exists, yet only 14 materials, constituting 42% of the phone’s total weight, adhere to ethical and sustainable sourcing. Among these, a mere 70% of the 14 raw materials originate from fairtrade or recycled origins. The mining processes involved in procuring rare earth elements utilized by Fairphone and similar smartphone manufacturers yield significant environmental repercussions, leading to potential air, water, and soil contamination.
In an impartial evaluation of the company, experts suggested that Fairphone could enhance its sustainability profile by acquiring more materials from certified, fair sources and by producing phones that are not just repairable but also upgradeable. The founder mentions that Fairphone has broadened its spectrum, sourcing materials from sustainable and ethical origins from eight to 14, with ongoing plans for further expansion in this direction.
Fairphone holds a key aspiration of enhancing ethical labor standards throughout its entire supply chain. Originating as an activism campaign in 2009, this social enterprise aimed to raise awareness about conflict minerals extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Presently, Fairphone procures certified conflict-free tin and tantalum from DRC mines and collaborates with manufacturers to ensure equitable working conditions in both mines and factories.
Despite its aspirations, Fairphone remains a relatively minor participant in the mobile phone market, having sold approximately 550,000 devices since its inception. To provide perspective, more than 232 million iPhones were sold globally in 2022. Nonetheless, Van Abel emphasizes Fairphone’s endeavor to demonstrate that companies can indeed generate profits by retailing sustainable smartphones.
Van Abel expressed hope that Fairphone’s initiatives might catalyze further transformations within the smartphone industry. ‘Our primary objective revolves around fostering sustainability across the entire smartphone sector,’ he continues. The brand is spotlighting supply chain issues and innovating solutions to address them.
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