How Are Smartphone Manufacturers Incorporating Eco-Friendly Materials and Practices?

In this digital age, where a smartphone seems to be an extension of our hands, it’s noticeable that the smartphone manufacturing industry has been making strides towards becoming more eco-friendly. As consumers, you are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of your purchases. This trend towards sustainability has not gone unnoticed by smartphone producers. They are progressively incorporating eco-friendly materials and sustainable practices into their manufacturing processes. So how exactly are they doing this? Let’s dive in.

Embracing the Use of Recycled Materials

The journey towards eco-friendly smartphone production begins with the materials used. Manufacturers are progressively turning to recycled and bio-based materials to create their devices, consequently reducing their environmental footprint.

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Materials such as recycled aluminium, plastic and bio-based materials are now commonly used in the production of smartphones. For instance, Apple’s iPhone 12, announced in 2020, uses 100% recycled rare earth elements in its Taptic Engine, which performs the phone’s haptic feedback functions. Simultaneously, Samsung has also committed to using more recycled material in its devices, with the Galaxy S10’s packaging made from eco-friendly paper and soy-based inks.

Moreover, manufacturers are finding innovative ways to incorporate bio-based materials into their devices. The Fairphone 3, a smartphone designed for sustainability, uses bio-based plastics that comprise 40% non-food based, responsibly sourced bioplastic. Bio-based materials are not only renewable but also have a lower carbon footprint compared to their fossil-based counterparts.

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Implementing Energy-Efficient Manufacturing Processes

In addition to using eco-friendly materials, smartphone manufacturers are also focusing on energy-efficient manufacturing processes. This approach involves minimising energy consumption during production and maximising energy efficiency in the finished product.

A good example is Apple’s commitment to become 100% carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030. This will be achieved through innovations in product design, increased energy efficiency in manufacturing, and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

On the other hand, Google’s Pixel 5 has been designed with energy efficiency in mind. The device comes with an Extreme Battery Saver mode, which prolongs battery life by limiting background activity and reducing screen brightness, thereby conserving energy.

Rethinking Packaging

Another way smartphone manufacturers are becoming more eco-friendly is by rethinking their packaging. Instead of using materials that contribute to waste and pollution, many companies are opting for sustainable alternatives.

The Fairphone 3, once again, is a great illustration of this. The device comes in a slim, minimalistic box made from 100% recycled paper, containing only the essential components. The charger, often a source of e-waste when bundled with new phones, is not included, as most users already have compatible chargers.

Apple similarly removed the charger and earphones from the iPhone 12’s packaging, significantly reducing electronic waste. The redesigned packaging is also smaller and lighter, thus requiring less material and reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Emphasising Repairability and Longevity

Let’s face it, smartphones aren’t exactly known for their longevity. However, this trend is starting to shift as manufacturers focus on creating devices that can be repaired instead of replaced, extending their lifespan and reducing e-waste.

Fairphone is leading the pack with its modular design, which allows users to easily replace parts themselves. The Fairphone 3+ is also designed for longevity, with a replaceable battery and access to spare parts.

Apple, on the other hand, has launched an independent repair program which provides third-party repair shops with access to the same tools, training, repair manuals, and diagnostics as Apple Authorized Service Providers. This move makes it easier for consumers to get their devices repaired, increasing the lifespan of the device and reducing the demand for new ones.

Fostering Proper E-Waste Management

Finally, smartphone manufacturers are also taking responsibility for the end-life of their products by fostering proper e-waste management practices. They are encouraging users to recycle their old devices and are offering trade-in programs that give credit for returned devices.

Apple’s Trade In program allows users to exchange their old devices for credit towards a new one, or to recycle it for free if it has no trade-in value. Samsung’s Galaxy Upcycling program enables old smartphones to be repurposed into new IoT devices, reducing e-waste and promoting a circular economy.

In conclusion, the smartphone industry is making significant strides towards sustainability by incorporating eco-friendly materials, implementing energy-efficient processes, rethinking packaging, emphasising repairability and longevity, and fostering proper e-waste management. As consumers, it’s essential to support these initiatives and make more conscious, sustainable choices when purchasing your next smartphone.

Supporting Fair Trade and Ethical Labor Practices

Aside from material and energy considerations, manufacturers are also acknowledging the social aspect of sustainability. This means supporting fair trade and ethical labor practices.

One company that stands out in this regard is Fairphone. The Dutch enterprise is open about its supply chain and is committed to sourcing materials in a way that supports local economies and doesn’t contribute to conflict or human rights abuses. For instance, they use fair trade gold in their smartphones, ensuring that miners are paid a fair wage, work in safe conditions, and receive additional funds to support their community.

Furthermore, Apple has also made strides in this area with its Supplier Responsibility program. This initiative enforces standards for labor and human rights, health and safety, and environmental impact within the company’s supply chain. In 2020, the company conducted 1146 supplier audits across 49 countries to ensure compliance with these standards.

In addition, Samsung has its Global Code of Conduct and operates a whistleblower system to protect workers’ rights. The Korean company has also set a goal to achieve Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals in its factories by 2020.

These practices are critical in creating an ethical and sustainable smartphone industry. Consumers can support this by choosing manufacturers who prioritize fair trade and ethical labor practices.

Encouraging Consumer Energy Efficiency

While manufacturers can make substantial changes in the production of smartphones, it’s also crucial to consider the energy use once the device is in the consumer’s hands. Encouraging consumer energy efficiency is another way that smartphone manufacturers are promoting sustainability.

For example, Google’s Pixel phones come with an Adaptive Battery feature, which learns the apps you use most and reduces power to the ones you hardly use, thereby extending battery life. Apple’s iPhones, meanwhile, have a Low Power Mode that reduces overall power requirements when your battery level is low, and Samsung’s devices include an Energy Saving Mode that limits CPU speed and reduces screen brightness to conserve battery life.

Alongside this, manufacturers are also incorporating educational initiatives. Apple, for instance, has a dedicated section on its website that educates consumers on how to maximize the lifespan of their device’s battery to reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

In conclusion, the strides taken by smartphone manufacturers towards sustainability are commendable. They are making progress in terms of using eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient processes, rethinking packaging, emphasizing repairability and longevity, fostering proper e-waste management, supporting fair trade and ethical labor practices, and encouraging consumer energy efficiency. However, the onus is also on us, the consumers, to support these initiatives and opt for more sustainable choices when purchasing our next smartphone. By doing so, we can all contribute to a more sustainable future.