Sustainable smartphones: do they exist? ♻️

Triple lens cameras, facial recognition, wafer-thin screens… the technology that exists today was once unthinkable. But at a time when smartphones are getting smarter, so are we. Now wiser to the impact our buying habits are having on the planet, we’re beginning to change our ways – and forcing industries to do the same.

It’s an issue we can’t ignore. Flick through a paper or scroll through your social feed and you’re bound to hear another shocking revelation – how those cotton buds you innocently use end up in our oceans, or how your favourite snack is helping destroy the rainforests. The sustainability movement is dominating our media – and for good reason. Our planet is subject to irreversible damage and we need to act now.

Let’s take supermarkets, who’ve been under fire for their unethical ways. Packing plastic-wrapped tomatoes in plastic bags now comes with a side helping of guilt – our planet is taking a beating and consequently our conscience is taking a hit. In order to survive, supermarkets had to adapt and slowly we’re starting to see change.

Photo cred: Mika Baumeister


We’re all-too aware of the issues in the food industry, but what about our phones? Can these little devices we love and so often depend upon be up there with some of the planet’s biggest polluters? In short, yes – and on a much bigger scale than you might expect.

What the phone industry isn’t telling you 🤭

Tech brands are quick to show off their phones’ latest designs and features, but lobbyists and consumers are exposing the secrets they’ve tried so hard to keep, well, secret. So just what is it they’re hiding?

It’s actually the manufacturing of phones where the main problem lies. Dozens of metals, minerals and compounds go into making our handsets, which have to be extracted from the Earth, including 16 of 17 rare Earth metals at risk of becoming scarce.

The impacts of mining, especially in unregulated areas, and processing these precious materials come at a huge environmental cost. Not to mention the high metal pollution of water, soil and air, plus the human rights and social impact of the workers – which is a whole other story.

So what are our options? Do we have any?

We read or tweet about climate change on a phone that’s costing us the Earth (quite literally). We can’t win. The world is full of good people wanting to change their ways, but is there the option to?

“Waste and pollution are not accidents, but the consequences of decisions made at design stage, is where around 80% of environmental impacts are determined.” says Ellen, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The circular economy she believes in would mean designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems – basically changing the way things are brought to life, through to their afterlife.

Photo cred: Thomas Lambert

The good news is that some companies are starting to bring more sustainable mobile phones to the market. Take Apple. Their 2019 sustainability report includes a 35% reduction in their carbon footprint over the last three years and progress towards its goal of a mining-free future. Lisa Jackson explained, “We apply the same level of innovation that goes into everything we create, design, power and manufacture to make things better for people and the planet.” 


It’s proven in a study by Ethical Consumer, which explored two standout issues: conflict minerals (mined in an area of armed conflict and traded to finance fighting) and the pollution or harm caused by electronics waste and manufacture.

Apple was amongst few brands with a very good conflict mineral policies, behind Fairphone who take great measure to only work with ethical suppliers. Okay, we’ll choose Fairphone in future then, right? Interestingly, Fairphone came last in the ‘toxic chemicals management’ category for failing to disclose information about their use of toxic chemicals. Apple instead made the top tier.

While some companies are feeling the pressure and moving towards more sustainable manufacturing, not all have similar attitudes and there’s still a long way to go. Until smartphones smarten the way they are made, here at Raylo we are smartening the way they are used. Unlike the big networks, we’ve built sustainability into our business model from the very start to ensure 100% of all our devices will be reused – helping contribute to the circular economy. It’s why we’re a member of the B-corp family.

What does the afterlife look like?

It’s estimated by Greenpeace that in the past decade nearly 8 billion phones – and counting – have been manufactured. The result? A lot of dumped devices containing dangerous substances that can sit on landfill for enough time to leak into the ground, and into our water supply.

And that's just the phone. Add to that the cases we get through – most of which are from non-renewable resources that can last hundreds of thousands of years – and that’s…. well, maths beyond our means. 

At Raylo, we opt for cases made from plant not plastics – meaning for every ten of our customers, 1kg of plastic will be stopped from becoming waste.

Photo cred: Brian Yurasits

So it seems our handsets aren’t quite as innocent as they seem. As laws and legislations tighten and as activists shout louder, we push companies towards more ethical ways encouraging mindsets, practices and policies to change. Until then, it’s up to us to choose the most sustainable option out there.

*Main image cred: Max Delsid


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