Reuse and Recycling

How we’re tackling e-waste with the Fairphone 2

Reuse and Recycling

With the launch of the new Fairphone 2, the phone itself has gained significant attention for a few of the groundbreaking features that make it more ethical — especially the modular construction and replaceable parts. But these design decisions are just one part of a bigger story: our ambitions to consider and improve the entire life cycle of smartphones.

We’re working to understand how electronic waste (e-waste) is created, how we can minimize it, and what happens to it when it’s recycled or disposed of. And with the Fairphone 2, we can take our ambitions for tackling e-waste even further. With the Fairphone 2, we are continuing to address and expand upon the life cycle initiatives started with the Fairphone 1. Keep reading to learn how purchasing a Fairphone contributes to improvements throughout the entire life cycle of mobile phones – one step at a time.

Designed to extend lifespan, increase repairability and reduce e-waste

As an organization that creates phones, we recognize that eventually our products will also reach the end of their lives. But by looking at the whole picture from materials and components to production and repair, we’re working to find innovative ways to minimize the amount of e-waste we create, plus ensuring that the phone stays in working order for longer to keep it out of the bin as long as we can.

With the design of the Fairphone 1, we started by leaving the charger out of the box, because most people already have these accessories at home. This decision eliminated the need to produce thousands of unnecessary chargers — effectively saving close to 40,000 kg CO2 emissions that would have been generated by the manufacturing process.

We also began offering spare parts like the battery, display assembly and more to encourage people to repair their broken phone instead of upgrading to the latest model or sending it in for repairs (for additional CO2 savings). And we added features like dual SIM and expandable storage to make the phones more convenient for their initial owners, plus more suitable for the secondhand market.


Do you have a drawer like this at home?
All of the above is still true for the Fairphone 2. However, the new modular design increases the phones’ longevity and repairability by leaps and bounds. We wanted to give anyone the power to repair their phones – even if you don’t consider yourself very technical. With the Fairphone 2, you can replace a broken screen in under a minute without any tools (see it on the Daily Mail), and the spare parts modules let you fix the most commonly broken components with just a simple screwdriver.

Besides keeping the phone working for longer, the modular architecture and expansion port offer the potential to upgrade your Fairphone in the future – with new capabilities or better components, for example – to ensure your phone stays useful and doesn’t need to be replaced as quickly. Our goal is to increase the average time someone keeps a smartphone from two to five years.

Expanding our e-waste initiatives in Africa

Product design is just one part of our pursuit to reduce e-waste. To support the entire life cycle of mobile phones, we need to ensure that the right infrastructure and processes are in place to deal with phones that are no longer usable – even if they are not our own.

Despite regulations like WEEE regarding electronics disposal in Europe, the sad fact is that much of the world’s e-waste ends up in countries that lack proper recycling facilities. Here it’s often recycled by the informal sector, which has devastating consequences for the health of the local communities, as well as the environment. Thanks to the support of Fairphone 1 owners, we started addressing this issue by partnering with Closing the Loop and Recell Ghana, and together collected 3 tons of waste phones in Ghana and shipped them to Belgium for safe recycling. This process resulted in reclaiming a variety of metals that could re-enter the market, including 279 kg of copper and 2.68 kg of silver.

Impression of Closing the Loop and phone collection in action
With the Fairphone 2, we’re continuing our collaboration to broaden and deepen our engagement in Africa. To start, we have expanded the phone collection program with Closing the Loop to additional countries and are currently collecting phones with the help of local representatives in Rwanda, Cameroon and Uganda. In the coming weeks, our initial goal is to collect and professionally recycle 18,000 phones. In addition, we’ll take a closer look at the afterlife of the recycled metals coming from these phones with Closing the Loop and explore to what extent it’s possible to connect (some of) these metals to the Fairphone 2 supply chain.


Preparing phones for embarkment to Europe
At the same time, we’re exploring opportunities with Recell Ghana to set up an e-repair academy later this year to add greater value and introduce different skills and tools to the local repair sector. The concept is still in development and we will share more details going forward. Our ongoing targets for these projects are linked to the number of Fairphones we produce, so the more people support us, the more activities we can carry out to address e-waste in Africa.

New solutions for innovation in e-waste

E-waste is a massive issue that can’t be solved by Fairphone alone. But we’re slowly exploring new solutions and finding ways to innovate with the goal of stimulating the industry as a whole. And as we start selling an increasing number of spare parts, we’re also working to create ways to encourage people to return their used/broken Fairphone parts and modules.

Later this year, we’ll update you in greater detail on the projects outlined above. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to share your feedback or ideas in the comments below.

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