This is how Fairphone is changing the electronic industry from the inside out

This is how Fairphone is changing the electronic industry from the inside out

We are very excited to share the story of our latest partner with you: Fairphone. This company is on a mission to create fair(er) phones. As Circular Innovation Lead, Miquel Ballester knows all about how to make an impact. We interviewed him about his role at Fairphone, ambitions and future plans.

You have been with Fairphone pretty much from the start. What makes Fairphone unique, according to you?

We are a social enterprise, and we were born to inspire social and environmental change in the electronics industry – through the development of our own product, which makes all of our projects much more tangible and powerful. What makes us unique is the impact that we have with this approach: Sustainability is not an afterthought, it’s at the core of what we do.

You are the Circular Innovation Lead at Fairphone. How would you describe this role?

I’m part of the Value Chain Innovation team. We’re always looking for new opportunities and collaborations to make an impact in the electronics industry. My focus within the team is anything that has to do with the transition to the circular economy. This doesn’t only include recycling but also the design and longevity of our product. We did a project in Ghana for example, in which we collected old phones and recycled them.

What would a typical day look like for you?

I’m an early bird, so I usually get to the office at 7:30 am. When there’s no one around, I can focus best. I write briefings for new projects or go through my emails for example. From 9:00 am my colleagues start to come in and there are usually meetings scheduled. In our weekly team meeting, we discuss our projects and the challenges that come with them. Within the value chain team, we all have our own specific topics – giving us the opportunity to learn from each other. And since we’re always looking to collaborate with external experts, I also have meetings outside of the office.

At lunchtime, the entire Fairphone team comes together. 70 great people work in our HQ in total, and it’s really cool to see everyone mixing during this time of the day. In the afternoon I try not to have too many meetings. I have some focus time again and finish up the work I have to do that day before I leave the office at 4 pm. I live in Rotterdam, so I have 40 minutes of commute. In the evening I like to work out and I spent a lot of time cooking, maybe too much time (laughs).

Just like it is for us, recycling materials is an important part of your work. How does Fairphone approach this?

We believe in a circular economy and we are working towards integrating more recycled materials into our phones. Realistically though, we will always need virgin materials as well. Therefore, mining will continue to be a part of the supply chain. But when we use virgin materials, we make sure that they are sourced in the right conditions. We are currently collaborating with Solidaridad and Unicef on a project in Uganda. This project is all about improving the standards of the working conditions in the mines. Right now, there’s a focus on wages, health and safety. In the future, we will keep on working on new materials and continue to develop the communities that live from mining. We really want to be a vehicle for change in the regions that need it most.

Looking back at your achievements with Fairphone 2, what would you say is a major product milestone?

Fairphone 2 is the first modular smartphone in the industry. We made it modular, because we want people to keep our phones far beyond the industry average of two years. This design makes it a lot easier to repair separate parts of the phone. It’s possible to change a phone screen without any tools for example – in under a minute. And it has lots of benefits for recycling as well, as this project with vanPlestik demonstrates.

Fairphone’s community is of great value for the company, can you tell us some more about that?

We are very thankful for our community, they have been really patient with us. A big part of our community is very engaged in what we do. We take their ideas and complaints very seriously – ultimately, they help us grow.

And when we talk about our community, we’re thinking about Fairphone customers, but also about our employees and partners that share our goals and ambitions. They are often an essential source of knowledge on where we are going and what we are doing.

Why are Fairphone and vanPlestik a good match, according to you?

We love vanPlestik’s approach to recycling! Using waste material that otherwise would be discarded is something that really speaks to us. Often, plastic waste in consumer electronics is burned. We wanted to put the plastic waste we have as a company to good use, so we are really happy with this collaboration.

What are the plans for the coming year?

We are always on the hunt for new impact projects. On a product level, we are continually reinventing as well. We are currently working on a new product. Unfortunately, we can’t share too many details about that just yet, it’s still in the development stage… stay tuned!

Besides that, we are looking into offering Fairphone as a service. In collaboration with Circular Economy, we are doing a pilot for businesses at the moment. The goal is to extend the lifecycle of our product, as we’ve seen that very few devices come back to us. If the phones are returned after use, it’s easier to refurbish or recycle them.

What change does Fairphone hope to make in the industry?

We hope that one day, the amount of recycled material becomes a topic to consider in the process of a consumer buying a product. Whether it’s a smartphone, toaster or washing machine. To make this happen, we have to lead by example. We believe that the best way to change the industry is to be a part of it. By making phones, we’re establishing a market for fairer electronics, opening up the supply chain, creating a positive impact and building new relationships between people and their products.

Pretty cool right? We sure think so and can’t wait to share more about this collaboration! Keep an eye on our social media to stay up to date.

You think your plastic waste is useless? Not according to our experts!

The first Expert meet-up was a great success. The event was part of the Social Tech Tour organized by research institute De Waag; a series of site visits to innovative, tech-enabled social enterprises. It was the first meet-up in the series of events on our research project “van Plestik, your own plastic“.

From all over the city, experts in the field of circular design came together to exchange ideas. Among the experts were Fabeel Butt (HEMA), Bob Vos (Polimeer) and Charissa Koolen (Institute for Sustainable Packaging). The first edition was all about the following question:

How do we maximize the impact of small sustainable initiatives such as vanPlestik?

The value of plastic

After all experts had arrived, Socrates Schouten, head of Commons Lab of the Waag, opened the evening with a short introduction about the Social Tech Tour. After Socrates had introduced himself, it was time for the rest of the group to briefly tell something about themselves. Not only did all experts have to share their name and job title, but also had to tell the group about the only plastic item they would never want to get rid of. For example, Nout would never throw away a small plastic dinosaur that he got from his girlfriend during one of their first dates. This proved that plastic can certainly be of great value for people and is more than just a disposable material.

From a bad idea to a brilliant solution

After this introduction, Nout told the group of experts all about the origin of vanPlestik and the ‘vanPlestik, your own plastic‘ project. Then Sam took over with a tour through the workshop. After the tour it was time to get started with a brainstorm. The experts were divided into three groups: longterm partnerships, (circular) business modelling or communication / awareness.

Each group formulated a problem statement from a different angle via the reversed brainstorming technique. Instead of coming up with solutions for a problem, this technique is ought to create ideas to make the problem worse. This results in absurd plans that stimulate the creativity of the participants. By the means of short sketches of ten seconds each group came to their ‘worst idea’. Afterwards this idea was inverted into a good idea, that was pitched to the entire group of experts.

So, what brilliant solutions did the experts come up with?

Let’s return to the main question of the evening; ‘How do we maximize the impact of small sustainable initiatives such as vanPlestik?’ With the imput of the experts, we have gotten a little closer to answering this question. For instance, during the brainstorming session, the communication / awareness group came to the conclusion that “placing someone on the corner of the street that shouts to people that plastic is of great value” is a bad idea. A no brainer, because it’s impossible to reach a big and targeted audience this way. The idea was therefore converted into a more realistic plan. The experts in this group recommend vanPlestik to collaborate with partners with a large following. “Create interactive campaigns” was their advice. Perhaps aimed at children, because those are the ones who will determine the future.

In addition, the group ‘longterm partnerships’ came up with the idea for a consumer loyalty program to create more interaction with the customer. Consumers or businesses could contribute their waste to vanPlestik and in return get recycled products made from their waste. Conclusion: enough food for thought for us!

Want to be a part of the next Expert meet-up?

Working together with the experts has been really inspiring and gave us a lot of new insights. We are already looking forward to the next Expert meet-up, which will take place in June. Do you consider yourself an expert in the field of circular design or do you want to become one? Keep an eye on our social media channels for more details!

‘vanPlestik, your own plastic’  is  a project made possible by: Stichting Afvalfonds, Stichting DOEN, KIDV, RWS, Polymer Science Park and Gemeente Amsterdam. 

Start Project: vanPlestik, your own plastic

vanPlestik has started a research project which we will continue to work on for one and a half year. During this project, we will develop a new model for converting plastic waste streams into valuable, circular products. We will do so in collaboration with the business sector.

We strive for a sustainable system in which the waste stream can be converted into products that contribute to a circular society via vanPlestik. As test cases, we research in collaboration with partner companies such as HEMA and Conscious Hotels, to find out which waste flows of plastic can be converted into new valuable products. Printing with various types of plastics is a complex technical challenge in which we are looking for new combinations between the printing technique and the properties of the plastic. The new products we produce from the residual flows of plastic can be used in the offices or stores of the companies we collaborate with.

Our challenges:
  • Develop a Circular model in which the waste stream can be converted into products that contribute to a circular society.
  • Creating new cooperation models with companies, building up logistics and a infrastructure for this.
  • Create showcases on how a company can contribute to the circular economy by converting their own waste into new useful products.
  • Develop new printing techniques that allow types of plastics which are common in the plastic waste (PET / PE / PP).
  • Inspire companies and consumers to participate in the circular economy.
Want to be a part of this?

In order to share our research and continue to learn from other companies, we organize three expert meet ups and three presentations. During every edition we discuss a specific problem / topic with experts from the field. The expert meet ups are organized in collaboration with our partners. Feel free to think along and share your knowledge.

This project is made possible by: Stichting Afvalfonds, Stichting DOEN, KIDV, RWS, Polymer Science Park and Gemeente Amsterdam. 

vanPlestik in a store near you

Curious what our recycled products look and feel like in real life? Visit the Makerstore in Amsterdam and check out our products on display. Currently available the Delta Stool and Cirrus flower pot. Got yourself one of these 3D printed beauties? Make sure to share us a photo of your vanPlestik product @vanPlestik on Instagram. Interested in hosting our products in your store? Contact us at [email protected].

Artwork National Geographic

On the 4th of july at the Museon in Den Haag a very special artwork was revealed. Artist Peter Smith from KLEAN asked us if we could print the giant frame of the National Geographic logo. Peter was asked to make this artwork completely made with recycled plastic. The dolphin has been handfitted with shredded bottlecaps. We’ve printed the frame in parts and afterwards melted everything together creating this 3m high structure. It’s been a lot of work but we’re really proud to have contributed to this amazing piece of art!

vanPlestik selected for ‘Plastic Free Ocean Accelerator’ program!

We are happy to annouce that vanPlestik is one of seven selected participants for the ‘Plastic Free Ocean Accelerator’ program. This program is an initiative from World Wildlife Fund (WWF ) in collaboration with Impact Hub Amsterdam.

We’re very happy to have this opportunity to work together on scaling up our impact during the next seven months. We’re looking very much forward to collaborating with the other selected initiatives, our personal mentor and to getting professional advise from the project partners, PWCDe Brauw Blackstone Westbroek , Enviu en World Startup Factory.

We can’t wait to start!

Mooie Bende (A Beautiful Mess)

Together with the Beach Design vanPlestik has organized ‘de Mooie Bende’( a Beautiful Mess). A series of workshops for both kids and adults.

Together with the participants from the Wildemanbuurt in Amsterdam-West we’ve been inventing, designing and creating something new for the neighbourhood. The participants have learned a lot about recycling, 3Dprinting and designing.

I give this workshop a fat 10Lonneke

The resulting objects will 3Dprinted by us and be presented during a festival in the Wildemanbuurt in February.

Stay tuned!

@theBeach, @Amsterdammers, maak je stad!


vanPlestik selected for ‘Amsterdammers, Make your City!’

vanPlestik is verry proud to annouce that we are one of the winners of the ‘Amsterdammers, Maak je Stad!’ prize.

Out of 474 applications we’re one of the 37 lucky ones!

‘Amsterdammers, Make your City!’ is an initiative of the municipality of Amsterdam. The developing program will run for over 6 months for citymakers and organisation who want to show a new approach with regard to the themes: The Healthy City and the Talented City.

Winning this prize allows us to start at least 5 awesome recycling projects. And to bring our 3D-printer to real-world recycling issues.

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