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The Three “R”s of smartphone sustainability

published on 5 min read
Nokia smartphones for recycling

Repair. Reuse. Recycle.

There rarely is ever one solution to a problem. The many ways we can approach smartphone sustainability aren’t so much a set of options to choose from, but a number of things we should be doing. And here at Nokia phones, we’re doing them.

The three “R”s mantra essentially gives a smart device three lives. The first “R” is Repair. It’s about devices that serve you for long as possible. Long-lasting devices that can be fixed at home will go the distance and won’t need replacing as soon as some other devices. Then, there’s Refurbishment. We take Nokia phones that have been returned or traded in and tune them up so that they perform as good as new. Finally, there’s Recycling. When a device can no longer be viably repaired or refurbished, it still has something to give. We disassemble those devices and harness the raw materials for future devices. And the cycle continues.

That’s The Three “R”s in a nutshell. Let’s go into a more depth on how we’re acting on each of them, how they benefit smartphone users, and how they benefit the planet.

Repair: We’re making phones you can fix yourself.

We've got repairability on our minds at the moment, especially with International Repair Day just around the corner on Saturday 21 October. For example: you wouldn’t buy a whole new bike if your tyre gets a puncture. Favourite shirt lost a button? Sew a new one back on. We’re taking this thinking and applying it to smartphones.

Some of us will remember the days of replaceable batteries. Early feature phones had a removable back cover, and the SIM card slot was often under the battery itself. Mobile phones have come a long way since then, but in somewhere along the way, that removable back cover and battery were sacrificed in favour of more compact designs.

With Nokia G42 5G and Nokia G22, we’ve started to bring back that DIY aspect of phones. With guides and a few simple tools from iFixit,¹ you can replace the battery, screen, and even the charging port of these devices. Check out our device repair page for more information.

As we’ve touched on in a previous post, more time and innovation need to be invested to develop self-repairability further. For example, how do you enable battery removal, but keep the device waterproof? For us, these aren’t rhetorical questions – these are challenges we’re looking to overcome.

Nokia G22 with QuickFix repairability
Nokia phones have partnered with iFixit for repair guides, tools and spare parts.

Reuse: We’re selling refurbished phones

Considering the environment when making a purchasing decision can benefit you as well as the planet – and refurbished smart devices is one way to do it. Refurbished Nokia devices are now available for purchase in our Great Britain online store. They’re tested to ensure they perform as good as new, and for extra peace of mind, they’re covered by a year of warranty.²

We’re pleased to see that the refurbished device program in our Great Britain online store has been a success, so much so that we’re actually selling out of refurbished devices for many of our models. A new batch of refurbished devices will arrive in October, so keep an eye out for what becomes available.

The popularity of our refurbished devices in Great Britain tells us that there is clearly a demand for a more affordable, more sustainable way of purchasing smart devices. So, we’re making plans to introduce similar programs in other European markets, perhaps as soon as December, so stay tuned.

Recycle: We reuse parts to save materials

At the end of its lifetime, a smart device still has something to give. Why waste valuable components and materials by throwing them in the landfill when they can be reused in new devices? That’s why we have a few streams for smart device recycling.

We have a few In the UK, our trade-in service lets you cash in your old devices. You get a discount on your new device, and we’ll recycle your old one. That’s a win-win for you and the planet. Got an old smart device but aren’t planning on buying a new one? No problem. We can recycle it, free of charge.

We’ve also integrated a recycling program into our repair and replacement operations. It’s what we call a circular model for parts harvesting. It starts when we get sent a phone for repair or replacement under the manufacturer’s warranty. If we can’t reasonably repair the device, we send the customer a replacement and disassemble the old device and salvage usable parts. This includes displays, batteries, camera, and sometimes, even the main board. When we get devices that we can repair, we may use some of those harvested parts, all of which have been rigorously checked for full functionality. Through this circular parts harvesting process, we were able to save 3,473 kilograms of materials ending up as e-waste in 2022.

A multi-pronged effort toward sustainable smart devices

The power to repair your devices means you can keep it in use for longer – and because the cost of spare parts is considerably cheaper than a new phone, it saves you money. Purchasing a refurbished device is also a great way to save money while helping to save natural resources. And, by recycling our unwanted smart devices, can reduce electronic waste and conserve precious resources.

Sustainable practices are important for protecting our word for generations to come. Not only are The Three “R”s steps toward this, but they also benefit us in the short term. Repair your phone, consider a refurbished device, and recycle your unwanted ones. Save money, save resources, and save space. Everyone wins.

¹ Details available at https://www.hmd.com/en_int/self-repair.

² See coverage at Manufacturer's Limited Warranty.