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Project Details

Close up of a man holding the old internal workings of mobile phones

Fairphone

Produces the minimum harm possible to people and the environment.

Project URL: fairphone.com
Project Twitter: @Fairphone

  • Community Engagement
  • Economic Empowerment
  • Mobile
  • Physical Computing

The mobile phone may be changing the world but the revolution comes with some significant, often hidden, costs, in the way phones are made and disposed of.

Few people have much idea that their phones rely on tiny amounts of precious metal which are often only available from mines in areas of conflict like the Congo, where miners work in dangerous conditions, digging makeshift shafts by hand. At the other end of the process consumers upgrading their phones can dispose of their old ones, and the precious metals inside, without a second thought. No wonder the EU generates 10 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste a year, about 20kg per person. The digital revolution, carried forward by constant upgrades to our computers and phones, is leaving a heavy trail of profligate environmental costs in its wake.

Fairphone, an inspirational Anglo-Dutch venture, is a challenge to the mobile phone industry and its consumers to find a better way to make, use and dispose of their phones. The Fairphone aims to do for phones what fair trade and organic standards have done for food. The venture’s aim is to make the mobile industry rethink how phones could be designed, manufactured and reused.

The design team behind the venture is working with alternative supply chains and environmental groups to get the materials from safe, sustainable sources. The elegant Android phone is designed to be easily disassembled, so its components can be recycled and reused. Fairphone wants everything about its phone to be traceable and transparent, including the terms on which it is sold.

The first 20,000 Fairphones are due for delivery in autumn 2013 after a crowdfunded campaign to support the manufacture of the first 5,000 handsets was heavily oversubscribed. That number of phones would hardly keep a large branch of Carphone Warehouse going for a couple of weeks. So why does Fairphone matter?

Revolutionary changes to industries rarely start in the mainstream. Ryanair’s first flight was on the marginal Galway to Paris route with a 12-seater aircraft. It has since become Europe’s largest, most profitable airline. Fairphone is a clever challenge to conventional wisdom, to make the consumers, designers and makers of mobile phones rethink one of the most ubiquitous physical products of the digital age. (Another related project worth a look is Phoneblocks, a phone which can be assembled almost as if it is made from interchangeable lego blocks. Its designers argue this should allow people to replace components that fail without having to replace the entire phone,thus saving on avoidable waste associated with phones.

Image 'Ghana 2014' courtesy of Fairphone

Last updated: 09th of May, 2014

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