Mod Your Phone, Save the World

Phoneblok, ©Phonebloks

Phoneblok, ©Phonebloks

A major component of ending the electronic waste, aka, e-waste, crisis is to find helpful solutions that keep e-waste out of the dumps and overseas “recycling” facilities in the first place. Keeping up with changing mobile technology and reducing the increasing stream of e-waste may soon be as easy as plugging in a plastic module into your phone, thanks to the innovative designed-for-the-environment approach of Dutch design group, Phonebloks.

Mobile Phones Dial Up e-Waste Crisis

Mobile phones contribute to the growing problem of e-waste—a global problem affecting everyone in every social stratum. Improperly disposed of e-waste pollutes the environment with toxic chemicals, including mercury, lead and cadmium. Many of these chemicals impact human development, cognitive functions and overall health. Not to mention the effect improperly recycled e-waste has on humanitarian conditions abroad.

2,440,000 tons of e-waste are disposed of each year, and only 649,000 tons of that are being recycled, according to the Electronics Takeback Coalition. Of those 2,440,000 tons of e-waste, 19,500 tons are from mobile phones. Only 2,240 tons of disposed mobile phones are recycled.

Designing a Solution We Can All Use

One solution is to design technology so it’s upgradable, longer lasting, easier and cheaper to repair, and highly customizable. In other words, technology that’s not designed for the dump, but the environment and the future.

Phonebloks is a forward-looking, individualistic and creative solution to mobile phone e-waste. “Phoneblok is made of detachable bloks. The bloks are connected to the base which locks everything together into a solid phone. If a blok breaks you can easily replace it; if it’s getting old just upgrade,” states the company’s website. Phones can be created and modded with components and technology that fits the user’s needs. A user can pick and choose which components to purchase and add. No more or less. Like taking pictures? Choose a quality camera for your smartphone. Game a lot? Choose a screen and hardware that supports your needs.

When something breaks, simply swap out the old blok for a new one. Same for if the phone is outdated. Updating it with new bloks keeps less e-waste out of the environment and more of what a user wants in their pocket in the long run—their phone and their cash.

Great Minds Develop Alike

Early concept designs for Motorola's Project Ara, ©Motorola

Early concept designs for Motorola’s Project Ara, ©Motorola

However, Phonebloks isn’t the only group designing mobile technology for the environment, Motorola’s Project Ara is another design effort using swappable mods. Project Ara is an open source hardware platform, highly customizable and made for the entire world to use. The brains behind Project Ara met with Phonebloks’ creator, Dave Hakkens, to collaborate on crafting technology that anyone can modify, fix and update.

Both Motorola’s Project Ara and Phonebloks are still in the development phase, but release won’t be far behind given enough support for the projects, which both seem to be building up through social platforms.

Support innovative design-for-the-environment projects and recycle electronics responsibly to help turn back the toxic tide and build a better future for us all, one mod at a time.