Sustainable technology in 2021

Through innovations in design, these companies are working hard to combat e-waste and make our technology more circular.

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Hannah Erlebach

What if you could take apart and fix your phone rather than having to throw it away? (Image: Fairphone)

Black Friday is round the corner - and that means lots of technology, cheap.

At least, for us.

It's estimated that humans generate 54 million tonnes of e-waste every year, and 30 million of those come from consumer electronics - laptops, mobile phones and headphones which go in the trash. And we can't even really be blamed - the majority of tech available to buy these days is incredibly difficult to take apart, repair and upgrade. It's essentially single-use. It makes sense that we generate so much waste, because it's often more economical to buy a new product that attempt to fix an old one.

But what if products were desisgned differently? What if companies started respecting our right to repair?

Enter circular technology. While none of the solutions we have are perfect, there are brands working hard at trying to make our everyday electronics more responsible, sustainable and long-lasting - and keep them out of our bins.

What does circular mean? Circularity is the idea of designing products without waste. There are many ways an item can stay 'in the loop': an item that is fully biodegradable after use, for example. Or treating products 'as a service' rather than things we own, where a company will rent out products and eventually take them back, fix them up and lease them to a new user.

One solution that's hot in technology is 'modularity': designing products with parts that are easy to disassemble, customise and replace. This allows you to repair components or switch them up for more trendy and advanced ones, while keeping the core the same. It's also pretty cool to build your own laptop or pair of headphones from the individual pieces and a set of instructions.

Here's a look at some of the most innovative circular technologies on the market today - products that are by their nature designed to be more flexible, durable and reliable.


An estimated 15 million kg of headphones are thrown away every year, either because of minor defects or because they're no longer up to date. This doesn't have to the be the case, with two companies offering high quality, easily repairable modular headphones.

Name: Gerrard Street {top choice}

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Ships to: Belgium, Germany, UK

Highlights: Modular headphones available in a subscription service

Founded in 2016 by music lovers who were frustrated with frequently having to replace headphones, Gerrard Street is approaching circularity in two ways: through their pioneering subscription service, and for their modular designs which make components easy to remove, repair and upgrade. It's estimated that this allows 85% of the components in a pair of headphones to kept the same. The subscription service also allows people to access high quality headphones for a small fee each month, without the risks of paying €250+ upfront.

AIAIAI headphones can be customised from a range of speaker units, ear pads, headbands and cables (image: AIAIAI)


Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

Ships to: Most countries

Highlights: Modular, professional quality headphones

AIAIAI is another headphone company with a focus on 'design for disassembly' and responsible materials. AIAIAI's flagship product is the TMA-2 modular headphone, used by professionals and DJs across the world. You can buy a complete curated model, or build your own using tutorials - from a customisable choice of speaker units, ear pads, headbands and cables. And of course you can always purchase individual parts to upgrade an existing pair. You'll also find some funky materials, such as bacterial cellulose used to make 'bio-diaphragms' in speaker units.

Mobile phones & laptops

Name: Fairphone {top choice}

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Ships to: Continental Europe, UK

Highlights: The world's first modular phone

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone is revolutionising how we interact with mobile phones. What makes the Fairphone different is that no part is glued shut, so that even non-experts can easily swap out a battery or a display using only a screwdriver. Fairphone's Reuse and Recycle program takes back old phones, of which 55% are refurbished and resold, and the rest are responsibly recycled. The company is constantly trying to find ways to use fewer materials, source them more responsibly and reduce emissions; read their 2020 impact report here.

Starting at €579, the Fairphone 4 is out on 25 October 2021 and runs Android.

User holding a black Fairphone 4
The world's first modular smartphone (image: Fairphone)


Location: Germany

Ships to: EU

Highlights: Modular, easily repairable phones

Say goodbye to diminshing battery life or limited storage rendering your phone unusable: SHIFT phones' modular design allows you to switch out batteries and expand storage. Their phones are inexpensive to repair, and for the more hands-on SHIFT will give you the parts you need along with detailed tutorials. There's also a deposit system where you receive money back when you return your phone, regardless of the state it's in. Phones run on SHIFT OS, a modified version of Android.

Name: Framework

Location: San Fransisco

Ships to: US & Canada (EU coming soon)

Highlights: 'The ultimate Right to Repair laptop'

Framework have created a sleek, high-performance notebook designed to last twice as long as any competitors on the market. With laptops generally very difficult to disassemble and repair as they become ever more compact, this start-up has shown that possible to produce a stylish laptop that can be upgraded, customised and repaired - designed to last. The Framework Laptop DIY Edition is the only high-end notebook available as a kit of modules you can assemble as you like.


Name: B&O Beosound Level

Location: Denmark

Ships to: US, Canada, Europe & South Africa

Highlights: Adaptable, modular portable speaker

While the price tag makes us shudder, B&O's Beosound Level portable speaker can be commended for what it represents in its efforts towards a circular and future-minded design. Having earned a Cradle to Cradle Bronze status, its minimalistic, modular design has swappable exteriors to fit changing tastes in aesthetics, and aims to give users logical and emotional reasons to hold onto the speaker rather than buying new ones. Easy disassembly allows components to be recycled efficiently at the end of the speaker's life. In its current use, the speaker only uses 50% of its total processing power, to allow room for upgrades and improvements in the future. While it currently connects via wi-fi, the architecture is even flexible enough to accommodate a new chipset to fit whatever streaming methods we have in ten years' time.

With technology so ubiquitous, it is essential for us to find ways to incorporate it in a greener world (image: Marvin Meyer)

The technology problem is hard

Since our tech devices require such a huge range of materials, often ones that are difficult and energy-costly to source, it's challenging to find ways to make technology greener while maintaining high performance. But technology can actually help us: innovations like AI, robotics and blockchain can be used to improve the efficiency of manufacturing, optimise transport routes or help trace the supply chain for new transparency.

Technology is one of the fastest-changing markets, and the same holds for sustainable technologies. At Ecular, we're constantly reviewing and updating our directory of circular products; find more brands, ratings and inspiration at