Phones have become basic necessities for our everyday lives. I read the news on my phone, work on my phone, and move around using my phone. I’m typing this now using my phone. Really it’s kind of scary how dependent I am, and we are on mobile devices.
What’s even scarier is how our phones are made. There isn’t a part of a phone that can be considered ethical or sustainable. Supply chains for phones come from so many different places and are taken all over the world, it’s hard to find any type of transparency.
Every phone contains 60 different type of minerals and metals that have to be mined. Many of these metals come from regions in conflict, known for slave labor, and child labor, (which is also slavery.) You’ve probably heard of conflict diamonds, but conflict minerals are probably the bigger issue today. That’s just the metals and minerals.
Assembly of the phone is a whole issue too and still includes issues like child labor, slavery, toxic environments, and environmental damage. Workers in China report work weeks of over 80 hours with living conditions that are crowded, and don’t include basic necessities, let alone benefits.
The environment these workers live in is filled with toxic chemicals that frequently makes them sick, and inevitably leads to numerous health issues like leukemia and cancer for years to come. If the people are poisoned so is the environment. China’s waterways are undrinkable, and much of them don’t support life.
Foxconn the infamous Apple’s manufacturer in China has had workers commit and try to commit suicide. But Foxconn is a supplier for many more companies than Apple, they also manufacture products for Sony, Samsung, Amazon, Huawei, and many, many more companies.
More ethical phones are few and far between. This guide will go over more ethical phones, phone accessories, and networks. Caveat up front: the phones listed are made more ethically than other phones on the market. That doesn’t mean they have completely ethical practices. In fact, Engadget says you can’t have a completely ethical phone right now no matter how hard you try and greenwashing is a huge issue with tech companies.
In terms of comparability, I use an iPhone and rely on that iPhone, so Puzzle Phone, Fair Phone, have comparable performance specs to the iPhone.
Fair Phone is the most well known ethical phone alternative. The phones are easier to repair and have recyclable parts. Their phones last 5 years as opposed to the normal 2-year lifespan of an Apple phone. Their materials and ethical standards are a lot better and more transparent.
Their connectors are produced in a Fair Trade Pilot Center in China and they use Fair Trade Certified Gold. Some issues that Fair Phone still poses for the most ethical consumers is mining. Fair Phone does believe mining can be done ethically and in more environmentally friendly ways. They also still use lots of standard parts that are required for smartphones. Right now Fairphone does work in the U.S. but only on 3G.
This smartphone is modular. You can customize it, replace parts, make repairs, and make upgrades all without switching to a new phone. It’s built with three main parts. The spine, which has the speakers, structure, and screen. The heart, which has the battery and secondary electronic components, and brain, which has the processor and the camera.
Puzzle Phone is designed and manufactured in Europe and they strive to bring more sustainable practices to phone business systems.
Major phone manufacturers have made ethical and environmental progress in response to reports from the U.N. And shocking journalism. Nokia is the manufacturer that has gone the farthest, so that’s why they are on here.
They’ve tried to remove illegally mined tantalum from their supply chain and they require suppliers to map the supply chain of the metals, but it’s far from a sound or credible system. Nokia is aware of this and is involved in all of the six major initiatives to get blood minerals and metals out of their supply chains. Their Lumia 638 started being nickel free and using recycled metals.
For me, this is where all Phone manufacturers should be heading. The O2 Recycle Phone is made from totally reclaimed cell phone parts, grass clippings, and other natural products. The case is a recycled resin that’s been treated with grass clippings. They use carbon composite instead of plastic. The only problem is… it’s not produced for the mass market. Which really makes me sad.
In terms of greener smartphones, Sony has made a good start. I put this phone on here because the recycled aspects remind me of the O2 Recycle. The Xperia series is part of their Road to Zero Initiative, where they are taking steps to get to an environmental footprint of zero by 2050. They are using up to 99% recycled materials in their phones. and has a really low toxicity level compared to other smartphones.
We consume our phones at an astonishing rate. 150 million phones are disposed of each year. That’s a large number. A smaller number that is just as scary is 350,000 cell phones are thrown away every day. Just like clothes, one of the best ways to not contribute as much to this system is to buy a used or refurbished phone.
This charger is made from eco-friendly silicone rubber with ABS + PC material. It’s a solar charger battery pack. It’s great for hikers and backpackers because it’s water and shock resistant. It’s slow to recharge, but its portal and small so you can take it everywhere.
The charger from Anker is also solar powered. It looks like a personal solar panel, and that’s because it basically is. The panel can charge two devices and it might look bigger and bulkier than what you are used to in a battery pack, but it’s foldable.
The K-Tor Hand Crank charges any electronic that consumes less than 10 watts of energy. Basically, instead of plugging your phone into the wall socket you plug it into this and crank away to produce electricity. It also works for more than just your electronics because it looks like a standard socket instead of a port.
Another solar-powered smart charger. You can actually find it in stock at some Apple stores too. It has two USB ports. Its solar charging is really fast and takes just 5 hours to get a 3X charge you just unfold the panels and let it sit. You can also charge it from another battery source if you don’t have any good sun.
The Nimble portable charger isn’t solar, but it’s made from sustainable materials like recycled aluminum and plant-based bioplastics. All this plus the TPE which is thermoplastic rubber requires less energy to produce. They also don’t use toxic inks and dyes and rely on plastic-free packaging.
360 degree sound and volume control that’s all eco-friendly. They even have a cool feature that detects which angle to play the sound. House of Marley uses recycled plastics and metals, natural cotton, and FSC certified wood. The materials are chosen to have as little impact as possible.
LSTN makes their eco-friendly headphones from reclaimed wood and the casing is vegan leather. The wood is real zebra housing which naturally amplifies your music.
These earbuds have a relatively small carbon footprint thanks to their use of more natural materials like FSC certified wood and bio-plastics. Wood is also a natural amplifier so the sound will be better and they work break as easily.
Pela Case is trying to replace our plastic back with biodegradable options. Their cases are 100% biodegradable and compostable and come in a range of colors. They also don’t have toxins like BPA and lead and use low impact manufacturing.
Streamline your mobile accessories with Sunny Case. It’s a case and a solar-powered charger in one. : It’s always sunny in mobile readiness land. This is the first totally solar-powered case, currently designed for the iPhone 6 but with rumors of more makes and models coming soon. You can still contributor to this crowdsourcing campaign and be one of the first to get it.
Cool materials are everywhere if you look for them, Grovemade uses wood and other eco-friendly materials in their iPhone cases. They’ve also had innovative cases like ones made out of the decks of skateboards.
Phone Co-op is a phone network based in the U.K. The network is customer owned and pays the staff a living wage. They are also a member of the Fair Tax Mark Program which is a pretty simple tax structure. For U.K. ethical phone holders its a good plan to match with the Fair Phone.
Credo is considered by some to be the U.S. choice for an ethical and environmentally conscious carrier. This is because they donate a percentage of their profits to charitable causes. They run on the Verizon network.
The People’s Operator is similar to Credo in that they give a percentage to charitable causes. They donate more. 10% of your bill goes to causes that their customers get to vote on.