Tackling Short Life-Cycles and E-Waste: Smartphone Circularity

It’s time we rethink our approach to electronics, focusing on reusing, recycling, and repairing.

Over the last two decades, we have witnessed impressive innovation in consumer electronics. However, this progress has brought us to a perplexing juncture. Smartphones have particularly become notorious for their short life cycles. Our desire for the latest devices has led to an overflow of electronic waste, making it the fastest-growing waste stream globally.

The “throwaway culture” does not only contribute to electronic waste, it also drains our finite natural resources and strains our wallets. In such a context we need a real shift in consumer behavior, recognising the value of repair as a viable alternative to buying new devices.

Promoting safe and quality repair in order to tackle short life-cycles and e-waste is two-fold.

Designing for Repairability

Consumer electronics should be designed with repair in mind and be built to last. This can seem like stating the obvious but even today consumer devices, and particularly electronics, are designed in a way where they can’t be repaired or only by a limited number of authorized professionals. Beyond the normal wear and tear, accidents happen. Don’t we all know someone who dropped their phone during a trip away from home and could not find anyone to replace their screen? Any professional repair provider should be able to carry out basic repairs such as a screen or a battery replacement. This implies making original spare parts and instruction manuals available on the market, at an affordable price.

The market has been changing a lot over the last few years but independent repair professionals still face restrictions that prevent them from competing fairly with authorized repair providers. Bundling of parts is a real issue: we are often forced to buy more than we need, artificially pumping the price. Think of it like replacing a car’s tire instead of the entire wheel assembly. We should ensure that parts are available individually and reasonably priced.

Then comes the availability of parts and manuals. The problem of availability of parts could be solved by acknowledging the use of compatible third-party parts. Similarly to generic medication, generic parts could be reused across multiple brands or product categories and bring the prices down in the market. Every consumer electronics should also come with accessible instructions that empower users to safely perform repairs without compromising device performance.

While we have seen progress, original manufacturers are implementing new solutions to limit or prevent repair. Those anti-repair techniques need to simply be banned. For example, some devices are designed with part pairing, making it nearly impossible for anyone other than the original manufacturer to fix them. There must be other ways to ensure repairs are done safely without compromising the user experience without limiting who can perform the repair in the first place.

By implementing these measures, we can improve the quality of repairs, build consumer trust, and encourage people to choose repair over replacement.

Universal Right to Repair for Consumers

Another challenge lies in the affordability of repair. In refurbishment specifically, we work with older devices for which parts may be more difficult to supply or just not available through mainstream channels, inflating the prices passed onto the consumers. This limits consumer choice and makes repairs unaffordable to many.

To address this issue, we need progressive legislation that guarantees a “consumer right to repair.” This means consumers to have the freedom to choose the provider of their choice based on transparent criteria (such as price, convenience, and location) rather than being locked into using the manufacturer’s services or their selected partners.

In Europe, there have been ongoing efforts by the European Union to address these concerns and promote a circular economy in consumer electronics. These initiatives aim to create a level playing field and foster healthy competition among repair providers.

Swappie’s Contribution to Change

At Swappie, we take pride in contributing to these discussions and actively participating in efforts to make refurbishment mainstream. It’s time to embrace a circular economy, where our devices not only enhance our lives but also preserve the planet for future generations.

Through collective action, progressive legislation, and a commitment to repair and refurbishment, we can reshape our consumption habits and contribute to a more sustainable and circular future for consumer electronics. It all starts with designing for longevity, ensuring accessibility, and empowering consumers with choice.