According to the United Nations Global E-Waste Monitor, roughly 46 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2014, only 7.1 tons were recycled or reused. This e-waste is expected to increase by 4 to 5 percent annually for the foreseeable future.
While this might seem as an inevitable and unfortunate side-effect of our tech-addicted society, a group of entrepreneurs, designers and social enterprises have begun to build what they believe is a more sustainable alternative. A series of modular smartphones, which feature replaceable parts, greener supply chains, and longer lifespans, hope to pioneer a new generation of replaceable, fixable and longer-lasting gadgets, with technology that could eventually be used for everything from televisions to laptops.
A smartphone has hundreds of components, each with its own manufacturers and suppliers from around the world. With so many players involved, there are numerous social and environmental costs associated with the process, including in sourcing the raw materials and the rare minerals commonlyused in consumer electronics.
Fairphone, a Dutch enterprise, decided that, instead of campaigning for industry players to change their ways, they could have more impact on the way metals are mined by developing their own phone. With components sourced through a transparent and more environmentally friendly supply chain, the phone also has the option to swap out and replace parts that are broken or need to be upgraded. This gives the phone longer lifespan and makes for less e-waste.
Though Fairphone is the first product to market with clearly modular architecture, it clearly is not the last. Google has announced its intention to build a modular phone, as part of an initiative called Project Ara. The company had initially set a deadline of 2015 to test prototypes, but has now pushed back the date to 2016. Until Google launches, other companies are likely to wait to see the outcome. Once it is proven to be working, then others will be more willing to get on board.