Imagine a world where your electronic gadgets would last, or a place where your devices could be easily repaired. Imagine all the money saved!  

 

..But we know that world is purely imaginary, because unfortunately, the growing trend among major IT brands is to make our phones and other devices more difficult to repair and maintain.

Greenpeace in partnership with US-based company iFixit, has just assessed over 40 of the most popular smartphones, tablets and laptops from the past two years, to see how easily companies are allowing consumers the access to repair or make spare parts and repair manuals available.

This is what we found:

1. Devices are purposefully made difficult to repair and maintain

Replacing memory or upgrading the hard drive isn’t as easy as it used to be. Why? Because pieces are soldered onto the board, making repair even harder. Some of LG and Samsung´s latest smartphones alongside Apple's laptops are example of this type of design.

2. Believe it or not, some phones are becoming more fragile than sturdy

Hands up if you’ve ever broken your phone. Annoying right? A major reason is that they are largely made of glass, and while electronic manufacturers have introduced stronger types of glass over the years, cracked screens are still endemic. In fact, most of the new generation phones are being built with expansive glass front, making them more prone to breaking. For example, Samsung’s latest S8, designed with edge to edge glass on the front and back, has been called “the most fragile’ phone ever made”.

3. Batteries are harder to replace

Remember the infamous exploding Samsung Galaxy Note7? The company might have been able to avoid recalling millions of devices if the phone’s design had enabled easy battery removal. Unfortunately, nearly 70% of all devices we assessed had batteries that were impossible or difficult to replace, due to design decisions and the use of strong adhesives to affix the battery to the casing. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone and Apple’s Retina MacBook’s batteries are completely adhered to the device panels.

4. Accessing the tools to self-repair are hard to obtain

Even when repairing could be possible, it's very expensive and time consuming, and often special tools are required to work with proprietary screws and other parts. Apple’s iPhone, Oppo's R9m, and Huawei’s P9 are just some of the devices that require special tools to conduct repairs.

5. Repair manuals or spare parts aren't easily available to the public

Very few electronic manufacturers provide users with information about how to fix their products. Out of the 17 brands represented in our assessment, only three - Dell, Fairphone and HP - provide all spare parts and repair manuals.

Greenpeace volunteers group organises a smartphone repair event in Beijing, China where visitors can repair their smartphones.

So what environmentally friendly products can you buy?

A few best-in-class products we found, such as Fairphone, Dell and HP, show that designing with repairability in mind is possible.

Making devices that last longer and can be repaired is the most significant step that electronic brands can take to reduce the various environmental impacts associated with electronics manufacturing - from the extraction of virgin raw materials, the use of hazardous chemicals and large amounts of energy in manufacturing through to generation of millions of tonnes of e-waste every year.

After all, tech companies recruit some of the brightest minds on the planet, so why can’t they come up with something that takes into account our Earth’s limited resources?

Elizabeth Jardim is Senior Corporate Campaigner at Greenpeace USA

Together, we can change the system. Join hundreds of thousands around the world demanding that leading IT companies like Apple, Samsung and others rethink our tech, and design products that are longer-lasting, and that don’t cost the earth.

Join the movement to rethink technology! www.rethink-it.org