When the history books are written about 2020, they’ll undoubtedly focus on Covid-19, the huge loss of life and the lockdowns imposed by panicking politicians around the world.
What the history books won’t talk about is climate change, which had been enjoying unprecedented public and media attention until events overtook it in March.
The momentum propelling us towards a cleaner and greener future has ebbed away ever since, though lockdown has yielded fringe benefits like less commuting and more walking.
There’s little doubt our reliance on oil and natural gas will diminish in the coming years, through a combination of declining natural resources and greener alternatives being used.
In the meantime, manufacturers and designers are attempting to pivot the world away from its plastic addiction.
And one of the areas where this may soon become evident is smartphone design and construction.
Turning the tide on trash
Plastic smartphones were ubiquitous until a couple of years ago.
Even though designs were made to look like brushed steel or glass, they were almost always made of the same environmentally damaging material.
Happily, the metaphorical tide is turning.
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 range uses aluminium in its chassis. Its Note 10 does too, despite the firm mistakenly claiming it was manufactured using stainless steel.
Nokia’s 8 Sirocco really does use stainless steel (and glass), while the firm is marketing a Kevlar case for its 6.2 and 7.2 models instead of the usual rubber or plastic wraparounds.
Other manufacturers have gone even further.
The Carbon 1 is the world’s first carbon-fibre smartphone, supporting the company’s ethos of using sustainable high-tech materials.
This German handset is thinner and lighter than comparable six-inch plastic smartphones, yet it’s also stronger, since it doesn’t need internal supports or protection at its edges.
Meanwhile, the Fairphone 3 is a modular smartphone with interchangeable components intended to ensure each handset lasts for many years.
This Dutch firm is minimising the environmental impact of smartphone manufacturing, from the use of Fairtrade gold to a proprietary international handset recycling scheme.
From niche to mainstream
There’s no doubt that other companies will follow in the footsteps of Fairphone and Carbon.
For instance, Samsung are working towards a target of eliminating plastic product packaging.
Apple has built a recycling robot to dismantle and repurpose used iPhone components, keeping electrical waste out of landfill.
Huawei has been gradually expanding its use of plant-extract bioplastics in recent years.
And Sony is focusing on recycling and reusing plastics which are already in existence.
Sony’s policy makes particular sense given the literal and metaphorical oceans of plastic strewn across our planet, with average decomposition times of a thousand years.
As a result of this historic profligacy, it may be a while before plastic smartphones are eliminated from our homes and high street retailers.
But at least they’ll be less environmentally destructive than before…