For all of the problems our smartphones solve, they come with some serious baggage. Conflict zones like the Democratic Republic of Congo still supply key metals used in manufacturing. Phones are sometimes assembled under unfair labor practices—from child labor to the violence, riots, and suicides that made Foxconn infamous. Phones are usually hard to repair, so if something goes wrong, it's often easiest just to get rid of it and buy a new one (and with new designs out as often as manufacturers can manage, even if there's nothing wrong with your phone, you probably want a new one). Last year, 1.7 billion new phones were sold.
How can we do better? A Dutch team of designers has just successfully crowdfunded one attempt: the Fairphone, which will start shipping to European consumers beginning this fall.
The Fairphone team examined every part of the supply chain in detail, and opened up those details to the public—including the costs of materials. The first handset will contain conflict-free minerals, and later versions plan to use only recycled materials. The factory for assembly uses a special fund to ensure fair wages.
The company will offer spare parts of crucial components for sale, so the phone can be repaired. Owners can also install the operating system of their choice. When it's time to recycle the phone, the Fairphone team will help connect consumers with the best programs. But for now—with the hope that the phones will stay in use longer than usual—Fairphone is helping support recycling of other companies' phones, and will donate €3 from each sale to removing e-waste in Ghana.
Learn more here. Have an old phone you've been meaning to recycle? Take action—those materials could eventually end up in other products, or the phone itself could be reused, but it ain't gonna happen if it's in your drawer.
Images courtesy of Fairphone