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We don't want the earth to boil, but we do still want our phones

by Sally L Watkins Friday August 27th 2021

We don't want the earth to boil, but we do still want our phones-mobile-phone-environment

Just take a look at your mobile phone and guess how many different metals are needed to make it work. More importantly, where exactly are those metals going to come from in the future?

Many special things go into making a phone, and unlike what you've been served in certain press conferences, none of them relies on magic.

Many of them rely on mining, and some rely on mining resources that are not infinite.

What does this mean? We will run into the problem where we've all got to use our old phones, which is tragic and of course, there are probably other consequences past that.

So what are the metals we're talking about?

Metals like lithium cobalt, nickel neodymium, copper are used in phone manufacture.

Unfortunately, many of these scarce resources not only make up your phone, but they also make up the things we need to combat climate change.

Metals and rare earth metals are required for batteries in electric cars, turbines in wind turbines, wave generators, storage batteries for alternative power sources like solar and almost everything else!

These shortages are already popping up, and we need to stop the earth from warming more than two degrees by 2030. Which means we need to do something now.

One of the big things is obviously recycling, but some of these elements within the phones have been very difficult to separate.

But if you try hard enough, most of these products can be recycled.

If there is willpower and policies for the right initiatives to recycle them, it can be potentially done.

It may have a higher price, which people aren't always comfortable with, as it is probably cheaper to make some of these devices by mining than making them from recycled materials, but that is only in the short term.

However, you've got to be thinking about the price in terms of Quality of Life and the fact that we don't want pollution or global warming. It is insane to throw things away and we don't want to overheat the planet and boil to death!

Australia has actually had some recycling systems in place for a long time. Some of them are pretty successful, but many people aren't aware of them, or they don't use them, or I don't think they're set up for the general public to use them.

For instance, Australian company Mobile Muster is funded by the mobile phone industry, where you can actually send off your phone to be recycled and help Landcare as well.

MobileMusterrecycles mobile phones to recover over 95% of the materials and turns this into valuable materials for reuse. They are reducing the need to mine and taking fewer resources from the earth.

Plus, recycling also saves energy when extracting and processing virgin materials and reduces burning fossil fuels.

Don't put your phone in the bottom drawer; send it off to be recycled.

Apart from handing down your phone to the unfortunate person in your household who can't afford a phone, or dumping them on the curb when you're allowed to, or watching them explode as you throw them into the dump, give your phone a second life.

Recycle it if you have to upgrade your phone.

You can look up online for Drop off points where you can recycle your mobile phone and other e-waste like monitors and television sets and those sorts of things,

Also, consider the environmental cost and pressure on these limited resources due to our obsession with upgrading phones and other devices regularly.

Where exactly it is these metals come from in the first place.

When it comes to purchasing a phone, you don't think about where it comes from; you just buy your phone.

But there are issues involved that we should consider.

For instance, cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, provides about 70% of world production, and is notorious for using child labour in mining. Their unethical mining practices include lithium for batteries.

We need these materials to fight climate change through the new technologies mentioned. Still, the impact of mining these substances on local environments and the people who work in these mines is significant, ethically and environmentally.

There are also many issues with the extraction of lithium, ruining waterways in Chile, for example. So this is going to be actually not just with phones, but a massive issue in the coming decades for all electronic and storage devices.

So we need to figure out a way to reach compromises on that. Looking at how little compromise we've been able to make in the way of climate change and the last few years doesn't inspire much confidence.

Are tech manufacturers that they're finding more sustainable ways of building some of the devices that we love and use every day?

Surprisingly some manufacturers have taken steps in this regard. Apple and Samsung are probably the most prominent, announcing neutral carbon strategies and new computers made from recycled materials like recycled aluminium.

Without a Charger. Will It Curb E-Waste?

More controversial is Apple and Samsungs announcement that they will not ship chargers with phones as users don't need chargers and EarPods as they already have them from previous purchases.

If chargers aren't shipped with phones and even tablets anymore, it is potentially disturbing, as an old charger may blow up your house, but it's actually quite good in terms of saving the planet.

No Chargers - Will this curb E-Waste?

Apple's decision to not ship chargers and EarPodswith its phones is an attempt to reduce its environmental footprint. It is a significant way for Samsung and Apple to lower the costs of selling their phones. It will have a significant impact on the environment.

Taking these items out of smartphones packs could help reduce the number of chargers that go unused and are thrown away as users already have a bunch more scattered around their house.

Making iPhone's packaging smaller, Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives at Apple, claims they save up to 70 percent of space on a shipping pallet with smaller packaging. "Taken all together, the changes we've made for iPhone 12 cut over 2 million metric tons of carbon annually; it's like removing 450,000 cars from roads every year." Lisa Jackson said. "There are also over 2 billion Apple power adapters out there in the world, and that's not counting the billions of third-party adapters. We're removing these items from the iPhone box, which reduces carbon emissions and avoids the mining and use of precious materials."

European Union's push for a universal charger

Apple has previously argued that a universal charger across all smartphones, a policy pushed by European Union, states it would "stifle innovation and create an unprecedented volume of electronic waste" as people would still throw out their lightning accessories and cables.

So it's really up to us to let these companies know that these kinds of reductions and policies are what we want now.

We can contribute to reducing climate change in small manageable ways, even if it means we spend a little bit more. Contributions like this from each of us will be ensuring the future of our climate targets and our gadgets!