REFURBISHED VS FAIRPHONE

Emma vs Tamara

This is a post free from Covid-19 mentions! Enjoy the breather as you ponder the ethicalness of mobile phones. :)

To buy new, or not to buy new?

That is the question that Emma and Tamara are tackling in today’s post, specifically in relation to mobile smartphones.

Should one buy new, or refurbish and repair? Or simply do without? (Spoiler alert, the last option isn’t a choice we explore!)

Photo Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection 

EMMA SAYS: DON’T BUY NEW. BUY REFURBISHED.

We begin with Emma, the queen of the refurbished phone.

Emma got all the phones, she got all the phones.

I have had eight phones in my short little life. (I’m still a Young Green for nine more months!) The first two – a Motorola Brick and a Nokia 3310i – were third hand. My uncle would give my mum his old phone when he got a new one and I would get it after she was done with it.

Then, I turned 16 and I asked for a camera phone for my birthday. And that was where things started to go wrong. When I went to college (and started going out later with friends), my parents and I agreed that I would get a cheap contract, so that I couldn’t claim that I didn’t have the credit to tell them the gig overran or I missed my bus. That came with a new phone, barely a year after the last. (I assume the provider didn’t have a sim-only contract then.)

When I moved to uni, my phone didn’t get signal and, after too many nights only able to phone people while standing outside the IT centre, I switched providers, which came with a new phone. This time a slider phone, which broke just a year later, and resulted in me buying my last-ever new phone.

I should, for context, tell you that I got another phone second-hand from my mum and discovered sim-only contracts at some point between 2011 and 2019. (Also, that all of my past phones have been recycled or sold on if they were working.)

Reader, she cheap.

As mentioned before, I’m cheap. (If this feels like a recurring theme to you dear reader, try being one of my friends who I refuse to pay the £4 to sit next to on a plane or who have to smile at the bartender as I order tap water at their birthday night out.)

The phones that I had bought, as opposed to getting through a contract or from a family member, only ever cost about £60, which meant that they were off-brand with lower-res cameras and would result in people going, “Is that an- oh no”, whenever I got my phone out.

So I didn’t want to buy a new phone when my old one was no longer able to support any of the social media apps that I used. But I was tired of taking terrible photos.

And yes, I know that sounds shallow, but as a writer and the co-runner of the Portsmouth Green Party Instagram account, it was my own personal hell to continuously borrow my mum’s phone to upload pictures about your local Green Party or promote my articles on Twitter. (For 10 glorious minutes in November 2017, a picture of a cake my mum made was visible on the PGP Instagram because I forgot to log out.)

Emma discovers refurbished phones and doesn’t look back, ok bye.

So last February, I knew I needed a new-to-me phone. I was practically bullied into it by a dear friend and my mum. I opted for a refurbished one through my network provider and got a 2018 model, which supported all the apps I needed and had a great camera, for just £60.

(It came with a £10 sim card that I gave away to one of the local homeless shelters to allow the people there to call their families.) (Full disclosure, I don’t remember which one, but The Lifehouse said they would appreciate it when I asked in preparation for the post.)

So why would I buy refurbished?

  • Cheaper
  • Lighter
  • More attractive and can get a cute case (although beauty is in the eye on the phone holder)
  • Compatible with wireless chargers (all of my USB cords are dangerously frayed)
  • Buying second-hand is better for the planet than buying new, even if the item you’re buying new is sustainable and eco-friendly
  • No matter how simple it is to repair the Fairphone (see below), I would still put it off. It’s pretty simple to clean my laptop keyboard, but I’m pretty sure there’s mould growing under there from the third year of uni.

But now, let’s hear from Tamara about the Fairphone. (She can totally trash my Huawei phone. A good place to start is, “aren’t the Chinese government using that to spy on people?”)


TAMARA SAYS: DON’T BUY BAD NEW. BUY FAIRPHONE.

Photo Credit: Fairphone

Tamara argues against second-hand…wait, say what now?

Uh oh Emma, are you going all 5G conspiracy theory on me? Seriously though, she makes a compelling argument. Buying second-hand should be the default. So why even as I agree that if a phone can be reused, it absolutely should, am I arguing against? Dear Reader, let me take you down an alternative path.

Like Emma, I have always taken pride in not being a brand follower or a tech upgrader. Sim-only contract, that’s me! Why get a new phone every two years when my current one is perfectly fine-ish? Again like Emma with her third-hand-me-downs, my mobile phones were always donated by my partner, the Dutchman when his work upgraded their mobile phone contracts. He always had a better, faster, shiner phone than me, with more storage space and a fancier camera. He was always the more tech-aware one in our household. I am the one who goes running with my trusty old iPod. I was the one who carried around a mobile power bank because my old iPhone’s battery would drain to 10% if I even thought about making a call. I couldn’t afford to repair these phones and most couldn’t be repaired anyway, cause they are not designed to be easily accessed.

Until now.

I am now the trend-setter with a phone that I treat more reverently than a new-born baby.

‘Hah!’, I hear you thinking, ‘Call yourself a greenie? What a hypocrite. Bought yourself a new, expensive phone at the expense of the planet and those who reside on her?’

And to that, I say: New? Yes. Expensive? Definitely yes.

Planet and people destroying? Absolutely NOT!

Dear Reader, I present to you the FairPhone a mobile phone designed to be repaired and ethically produced.

Photo Credit: Fairphone

I have reached ethical nirvana.

This is not a sponsored post. Tamara is just a massive fangirl.

Tamara learns to trust again, this time by doing actual research

For many years, I trusted brands. I trusted banks. I trusted supermarkets. I didn’t question why I trusted them, I just did. I thought for a long time that Apple was an ethical green brand because it was called Apple.

Luckily a good friend of mine (the same one who I mentioned in a previous post I share a subscription to The Ethical Consumer with) introduced me to the Fairphone about 5 years ago, opening my eyes in the process to the conflict mining and child labour that go into the manufacture of the typical smartphone.

Let’s get real for a moment. Smartphones are a*mazing. But the way they are produced is definitely NOT amazing. I won’t go into it all here, it bums me out too much and I get all fatalistic and depressive. But I will try to quickly summarise, so you know where I am coming from. But as usual, I strongly encourage you to educate and inform yourself as this is just my limited understanding.


~ A Sad Smartphone Summary~

Ok, so, basically, smartphones are made up of thousands of different components and on average around 60 different metals. These metals that go into a phone are mined.

If it is mined by people, by hand, from the earth, it is called artisanal mining. Artisinal mining sounds all fancy and lovely doesn’t it, like yummy sourdough bread. Hah, the absolute literal bloody irony as many of these metals are mined in areas of conflict, such as cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The unethical mining of these metals which go into our phones fund brutal conflicts. Child and forced labour is a huge problem. Artisinal mining my arse.

That is just one part of the supply chain. Then we have the manufacturing process, mostly done in China and Vietnam. I am talking poor and unsafe working and living conditions, inadequate health and safety and low pay. The usual fun stuff.

And finally, the disposal of the mobile phone. Even if recycled, many smartphones end up in e-waste dumps which leach pollutants into the soil, waterways and the workers who are extracting the metal components for recycling. (But we still encourage you to recycle your phone with us – we have absolute trust in Recycling for Good Causes.)

~End of sad summary~

Ooof. As I said, it is a bummer. And that is why, when my second-hand iPhone kaptutted, I bought a Fairphone 3.


Tamara pitches why your next new smartphone should be a Fairphone

The Fairphone is ethical but it does not claim to be perfect. It is not 100% fair or completely recyclable. But it is the only ethical smartphone that exists in today’s current market. They have traceable supply chains for all four internationally recognized conflict minerals: tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold. The gold is also fairtrade.

The supply and production chain of the Fairphone is completely transparent and they actively support workers rights and a fair living wage. My Fairphone 3 cost £400. From that, only 1.50 euro per phone was needed to ensure a living wage bonus to all the factory workers on the Fairphone production line in Suzhou, China. Fairphone points out that they are not the factory’s only customer and probably account for less than 10% of the total production in the factory. If all the factory customers followed suit, all the factory workers would have a fair living wage. *looks pointedly over to the big phone manufacturers*

And finally, the Fairphone is designed to be repaired. By the consumer! By me! It is a modular, repairable phone.

Yep, it cost me £400. That is a shite-load of money. I have never spent that kind of money on a phone before. Remember, I am a hand-me-down kinda gal. But I saved for a long time and bit the bullet and put my money where my ethics claim to be. Not everyone is able to do that, but I am happy I could.

Demand the right to repair

I am grateful the Fairphone option exists. But why is it the only truly repairable smartphone brand available?

It is my personal opinion -not backed up by any research cause I am at the end of the article and I am getting hungry – that manufacturers do not design their phones to last. They definitely don’t design them to be easily repaired.

This is why I encourage you to support and sign this Right to Repair petition urging the European Union to require manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei and Apple to design repairable smartphones and provide spare parts and repair information to all repairers and consumers.

After signing the petition, I am off to wrap my Fairphone in bubble wrap leftover from my recent move and sing it to sleep! My precious!


Written by Emma (l) and Tamara (r)
I’m Queer. I’m Brown.
And we’re both Feminists.