Greener gadgets: is the smartphone industry becoming more sustainable?

When you think of green gadgets, smartphones aren’t usually the products that come to mind. But a shift in the mindset of the smartphone and tech industries is set to change that.

We’ve seen businesses across the planet pledging to do better by using conscious materials, ethical sourcing or eco-friendly production, but what if the answer was simpler than that? What if we could reuse materials that are already under our noses?

That’s where the idea of refurbished comes in. Rather than sourcing things from brand new, refurbished takes an existing product, repairs and polishes it up to be as good as new, then puts it in a new pair of hands rather than sending it to the waste dump.

Refurbished is not a new development, though. IKEA has been trialling refurbished furniture and Adidas has partnered with clothes re-selling platform Stuffstr to repurpose clothing. Over in the tech world, Amazon is selling refurbished smartphones, computers, laptops and tablets under Amazon Renewed and BackMarket describe themselves as “your refurbished (super)market”. All of this momentum has led to Forbes calling refurbished the way of the future.

For the world of smartphones, this is a crucial development underway when it comes to tackling the global problem of electronic waste. After all, there are 50 million tonnes of it created every year, with much of it being destined for landfill – bad news for a product that can’t naturally decompose and which should be disposed of safely because of its toxic materials.

But for that to happen, there needs to be a change in the behaviour of smartphone providers. London-based tech start-up Raylo is just one company doing just that. Revolutionising the world of smartphones one iPhone at a time, Raylo is committed to eliminating waste by offering a subscription service rather than a purchase model on which most mobile phone contracts are based.

Isn’t it all about owning the phone, though? Not exactly – it’s a fact that smartphones decrease in value as time goes by, meaning that by the end of a contract a customer will probably be looking to upgrade to a newer model due to glitches or general wear and tear of their current phone. And selling it doesn’t bring much bang for their buck – despite the customer paying over and above each month to own the phone at the end of the contract.

Not only that, but it can often be a headache to know where or how to resell it, which is why there’s a global phenomenon of smartphones confined to drawers, dark under-bed spaces or in trash heaps. That’s not good news for the planet – or our pockets.

Raylo’s subscription service means that at the end of their 24-month contract, a customer can upgrade to another iPhone for zero cost. It also means they pay less each month as there’s no need to cover the cost of actually owning the phone. Their used phone is then refurbished by Raylo and put into another pair of hands, with waste avoided on both sides. This is a nifty idea called the circular economy and Raylo is onto something by applying it to a tired smartphone usage model.

So what does that mean for smartphones? Well, if more companies refurbish phones while working to the circular economy idea, that means there’ll be fewer smartphones destined for the kitchen drawer, better reuse of materials already in circulation, a shift in consumer behaviour from having to own ‘brand new’ to owning something ‘as good as new’, and an overall effort to bring down our global e-waste problem. And it seems fitting that one of the world’s leading contributors to e-waste should join the refurbished hype.

It also means sustainability will be favoured over profit and we think that’s a bright idea for a dated industry. In 2020, anything goes – and it looks like greener gadgets might just be taking a stronghold.

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