Reuse and Recycling

Guest blog: Fairphone’s role in the circular economy

Reuse and Recycling

Editor’s Note: Early this year, Fairphone was approached about participating in a short documentary about the circular economy. We were honored to be involved and very impressed with the end result, so we’ve asked filmmaker Ed Scott-Clarke to share a bit more about the background behind his film. Want to watch it before you read more? It won’t take long — this video offers a captivating look at a complicated issue in just six minutes.

I came upon Fairphone through another film of mine called E-LIFE, a feature documentary about electronic waste and what we should do about it. As you can imagine, a lot of the film was pretty depressing stuff: the electronic scrapyards of Ghana, human health problems associated with heavy metals used in technology, the sheer amount of e-waste we produce. However, personally I can’t stand doom and gloom documentaries and so I wanted to make a good chunk of the film more positive, highlighting what is being done to tackle the waste problem.

Fairphone and Dell help tell the story of the circular economy

We interviewed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in the UK, and iFixit in the US, and then Phonebloks in the Netherlands. However, none of these organizations were actually technology designers. They all are fantastic groups instigating social change but they didn’t actually make the things they were talking about. Enter Fairphone. We weren’t expecting much when we first got in touch. All of the other tech companies we had spoken to (with the exception of Dell, who I will talk about later) had been quite frosty with us and had declined an interview. Fairphone however welcomed us with open arms and my experience left with me with a lasting impression.


So when Dell, another organization interviewed in E-LIFE, opened up a short documentary film competition on the circular economy, I jumped at the opportunity to showcase what Fairphone does. I partnered with LA producer Tom Fox-Davies to enter a pitch. We won, and Circular Cellular was the result.

A humorous approach to a serious topic

I was the writer, director, editor and co-producer on the film and from the outset I wanted to make it a little different. It had to be less than 10 minutes long and yet be informative on a complex subject matter. It was also important that people would not switch away from the film after 10 seconds. Basically, how do you make a serious subject fit for a viral video? The answer I came up with was quirky humor, multi-media, and the breaking of the 4th wall — all done at pace. Dell were fantastic throughout, giving us creative support (in the shape of Adrian Grenier), kit, and the freedom to do what we wanted.


Although Fairphone was the inspiration for Circular Cellular, it was important to us to make an independent film using Fairphone as an example of the circular economy so that it wouldn’t be perceived as an advertisement for them. More than anything we wanted people to see why Fairphone was such an admirable company by showing them the facts, not just a piece of marketing.


Team member Bibi Bleekemolen is one of the subjects featured in the film.

Every great project suffers a few setbacks

We filmed in the US, where we interviewed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and e-recyclers (ERI), and in the Netherlands (for Fairphone). Due to the unconventional style of the film using lots of different media, the shooting was quite relaxed. However there was one low point in San Francisco. We were en route back from interviewing Chris Guenther of the EMF when we discovered that our car, parked on a busy road in the Tenderloin District in broad daylight, had been broken into. The thieves got away with some lighting and a laptop (and my travel washbag). The only car the hire company had as a replacement was a Dodge Charger, which is probably the most impractical production vehicle I have ever come across. It did however make it into the film 20 seconds in.

All in all it was a great film to be a part of. The team (composer James Bulley, graphic artist Patrick Fry, and camera guys Alex Kryszkiewicz and Rob Edgecomb) were awesome. I love the final result. And I’ve been incredibly impressed how an enormous multinational like Dell has got behind a project focused on another tech manufacturer with no creative input at all. Of course though the highlight of the whole project was to help promote a company with an aspirational philosophy, one that the whole manufacturing industry should adopt.

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