Hopes for better sustainability practices

As we all know, since its conception Fairphone is devoted to changing or at least making people think about how electronic devices are made, used and disposed. Fortunately, slowly but surely trends are changing or at least there seems to be a progressive improvement and starting with the European Union some legislation could be backing the concept of repairability and informing the customer about the lifespan of the products being sold.

https://retina.elpais.com/retina/2017/09/01/tendencias/1504258241_536831.html (Spanish version only…sorry!)



We will see how the whole thing evolves and whether the promises are kept in any way. For now, what we can do is to continue supporting the movement and congratulate ourselves that Fairphone is trying to do things the right way (although some bumps are encountered on the way) and at the same time be aware that it´s a matter of persevearance and endurance.

Let´s keep working on it!


More good news from the EU-side: Standards on items such as “repairability”, “recyclability” and “durability” for electronic devices is drafted as we speak, thanks to the ecodesign directive! (see also https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/sustainability/circular-economy_en => “product design”)

I’m only involved in the “recyclability” standard, but as far as I know, all standards should be ready in a few years time. It’s not fast (enough), but processes like these take time, since it’s completely new: nobody ever really tried to measure the recyclability of a microwave… :slight_smile:


So how are the attempts to measure recyclability? Can you give us some insight? :slight_smile:

This first-hand info is really nice. I´m also very interested in how to determine the lifespan of certain electronics, as some of them have several components that might have different lifespans themselves. Let´s keep this thread going with this kind of news! :wink::relaxed:

I don’t know how well-informed everyone is on the topic of European legislation and standardization, but I’ll try. Sorry in advance for the long post :slight_smile:

The Ecodesign Directive is the piece of European legislation that banned the incandescence lamps (and other electronic devices) because of their excessive energy use. Next to the energy use, they want to take new criteria on board, focusing on “material efficiency”. These criteria could be durability, repairability, use of recycled content, recyclability etc.

Of course, we can’t just write a law saying “every product should be at least 80% recyclable”. In theory, everything on this world is 100% recyclable and I’m sure you would soon see this claim on every single product…

So, the European Commission ordered to draft a standard. Basically, a standard is a document telling how to do something. Maybe you heard about ISO 9001 or ISO 4001: these are worldwide standards telling how to do quality management and environmental management, respectively. While DIN A4 is a German standard setting the measures of a standard sheet of paper.

Every one of these new material efficiency-criteria should be defined and a way to measure them has to be found. This work is done by a “standardization group”, where government experts (like me), ngo’s (not many) and industry (more than half of the group) are present. 93 people are involved in this discussions, so discussions are not very easy.

On the topic of “recyclability”, it’s complicated. We don’t even agree on the question if we want to measure it and end up with a number (“this tv is 56,27% recyclable”), or if we prefer a guidance on how to avoid some of the problems recyclers face every day.

Currently, it looks like we will evolve towards a guidance for product designers. This will probably be based on current recycling techniques. This has some consequences: a Fairphone 2 would, for example, not get a very high score. It would be a very recyclable product if recyclers would currently take time to dismantle smartphones before they enter the recycling plant. But this is not the case: there are just too many smartphones to be recycled and too little to gain by giving people ( = wages) this task. Time is money, and recycling is currently barely profitable. Smartphones are shredded before materials are separated.

You may remember the blogpost about the recyclability of the Fairphone. It was clear that dismantling the phone before recycling was the best way of recycling, if you want to recycle as many different materials as possible. The problem is, this way of recycling could only be cost-efficient if every product was as easy to dismantle as a Fairphone. So, should we tell smartphone producers to switch to phones that are easy to dismantle, or should we tell them to avoid using so many materials? Using two different kind (or colors) of plastics in a back cover, for example, is very hard for recyclers who want to recycle this plastic!

The other option would be to look at the mass of your product and the mass of the materials that would come out of a recycling process. This would allow you to calculate how “recyclable” your product is: “recyclability”=”mass of recycled materials” / “mass of product”*100. This is put very simple, because there are no calculation methods available yet (and many other issues). On behalf of our ministry I have ordered some consultants to come up with proposals to solve this, I can share the study when it’s finished (probably by the end of this year) if you’re interested.

I suppose this calculation could be very beneficial for a Fairphone 2: it allows for a theoretical disassembly and thus more materials to be recovered. However, according to the blogpost they got a higher mass of recycled materials if they didn’t disassemble the phone. So it depends on the question if the calculation gives a “bonus” for recycling small quantities of precious metals or not. Another issue we will have to tackle… :slight_smile:

As you can see, we’re not really far yet. Discussions only started this year, so this is no surprise. But the sooner we get this guidance out, the sooner industry can start using it and we can start writing (European) legislation forcing producers to take recyclability in account!


Is Fairphone at the table? And if not, how can they join the table? I do think that the company, who builds and sells the first modular smartphone ever, should take part in the discussion.


Fairphones are lying on the table, but I assume Fairphone doesn’t have the funds to send a staff member to these meetings (companies have to pay a membership fee, if I remember correctly). But of course I pick up many of the lessons learned by Fairphone. And I don’t think I’m the only one :slight_smile:


The study has been officially published on our website, feel free to spread the word!

I literally received the final version one hour ago, so I can’t say too much yet…
In short, this is a study looking at the possibility to calculate the recyclability of an electronic device. They propose a calculation looking at every material in the product and how difficult it is to separate it from the other materials.

Enjoy reading and please feel free to comment/discuss!

Edit: I will replace the link when it will be officially published on our website :wink:
Edit 22/12: replaced the link, since it was published on our website


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This may be interesting: The European Joint Research Center is working on a study on material efficiency of smartphones (e.g. durability, reparability, use and recycling of materials). They have opened a consultation for (registered) stakeholders, but everyone can already download the draft text open for comments!


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