DIY, lifestyle
27. September 2023.
Opis (tag)
Sustainable smartphones

The impact of smartphones on the environment is largely hidden in their production and materials used, consumption of energy and precious metals, and it also affects through a long supply chain. The EU action plan for the circular economy has set as its foundation the increase in the sustainability of information and communication technology, in which smartphones play a major role. Awareness is being raised more and more about the growth of e-waste, but also about the mines where, along with the violation of human rights, the minerals needed for our smartphones are searched for.

The number of mobile phones will exceed the number of human beings in the next few years, it is a staggering 18 billion by 2025

Of the approximately 1.5 billion phones sold each year, only 20% are recycled

Do-it-yourself repairs to extend the life of your device

The modular design increases the perception of self-repairability, while well-designed instructions lead to a positive repair experience

Most producers focus on recycling discarded devices instead of extending their life. However, certain smartphone producers have embraced the principle of repairable, modular design and materials that are more easily recycled. A modular design where parts of the product can be replaced and upgraded promises to extend the life of a particular product. Such a design promotes do-it-yourself repairs, and in order to realize the potential, it is very important that users are willing to repair their devices.

A user-centric approach is key to developing products and business models that promote repair. Producers thus need to address the different types of obsolescence that users encounter (not only technical failure but also all other factors that may lead users to reject the product).

Users of modular devices are more likely to repair the device themselves, while more complex elements such as motherboards are still more often sent to service

Consumer behavior research for a German smartphone producer that offers semi-modular and modular devices along with affordable and easy repair and DIY repair service found that consumers are more likely to engage in sustainable behaviour. That is, that they will carry out repairs on defective parts. It’s going in the right direction, earlier research showed that half of the users of conventional smartphones would rather discard defective devices than send them in for repair.

Self-repair can also increase emotional attachment to the product, which delays product replacement

Sustainable innovation

About 75% of CO2 emissions from phones are released during the production phase

Considering that it is not uncommon to need to buy a new phone on average every couple of years, there has been a need to stop ignoring the damage that is done and the desire for smartphones that last a long time, do not represent an expense and do not exploit mines.

Fairphone, launched by a Dutch social enterprise in 2012, fights e-waste, pollution and exploitation of the environment and materials. They avoided enviable amounts of CO2. Its parts are available and can be repaired with a screwdriver, with video tutorials on the Internet. The sustainability of this device is achieved by its modularity, which makes it easy to repair, and they also offer the return of old parts, which they plan to expand to more countries. With this solution, they aim to correct everything that is wrong in the supply chain and inspire the smartphone industry to be better.

The European Union is working to introduce a “right to repair” for certain devices to reduce e-waste

Another good example is Austria, which helped pay for more than half a million repairs in an effort to solve the e-waste problem. The government’s repair program covers faulty appliances such as smartphones, laptops, coffee makers and dishwashers. They have provided consumers with a large number of locations across the country where they can bring their faulty devices and redeem the vouchers.

According to the European Commission, discarded technology produces 35 million tons of waste and 261 million tons of CO2 emissions every year in Europe

The program plans to reduce waste by giving consumers the right to repair instead of replacement and making repairs easier and more cost-effective. In addition, it would avoid “planned obsolescence”, which makes the product unusable after a certain period, without the possibility of repair. These ventures will encourage producers to develop sustainable products and business models. The “right to repair” in the EU would work so that producers, within the legal warranty period for the product, would be obliged to offer repair services if it does not cost more than replacement. Even after 5 to 10 years after the date of purchase, producers would be required to repair the products, but at the expense of the consumer. Also, producers should disclose product repair information.

Ease of repair, repair incentives and ways to upgrade phones should be the focus. Phone producers and retailers should actively promote consumer awareness of repair options. Incentive strategies such as repairability ratings could be useful in influencing more sustainable product choices. Also, what is often easier said than done, for a more sustainable awareness it would not be bad to resist the aesthetics and seduction of the marketing of certain products, although in essence the technical difference of the products themselves is not that great. Finally, an EU price-level “right to repair” law could soon make it easier to repair rather than replace and discard electronic equipment and devices.


Photo: insung yoon on unsplash

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