It’s a dark fact many wish that they could overlook: modern technology is exacting a heavy price on the Earth and the people who live on it. Firstly, consider that cellphones are made with sensitive precious metals like platinum, copper, silver, and even gold. According to Statista’s web site, $55 billion was spent on cellphones in 2016. Next, understand that there are many rare-earth minerals in phones that you have probably never even heard of: Europium, Yttrium, and Dysprosium to name a few.
Ok, so they are expensive, so what? It’s no problem if people have a few silver spoons in their house. But as expensive, rare, and difficult to obtain materials become more and more in demand it breeds a large amount of greed. We’ve continued to see massive conflicts, wars, genocide, and other problems across the African continent for decades; that’s where many of those minerals are mined and refined. The intensity of crime and human rights abuses have lead microchip makers like Intel to spend years to produce a single ‘conflict-free’ microprocessor, made from materials known not to pass through criminal operations.
On the other side, those same expensive materials cause another problem: pollution. Electronics often contain lead, cadmium, copper, or mercury, all of which are highly toxic. When those chemicals reach water supplies entire populations can be affected. Finally, the Basel Action Network (BAN) found that about half of so-called recycled electronics are actually being shipped overseas, many of them ending up in localized areas of China. There are huge dumps of electronics which government officials have tried to deny that they even exist and have done little or nothing to enforce international law to protect their people and the environment.
So what can be done about it? What if you’re not ready to ‘go off the grid’? One of the best things you can if you are going to keep getting new phones is to be responsible with your old ones. A report by Delloite says there were $11 billion worth of used cellphones sold in 2015. Phones can be refurbished or resold as long as they are relatively new, so try to trade in your phone when you buy or try to sell your old phone as soon as you can.
Lastly, a great place to take your old phones is a charity. Your local women’s shelter or other community help organization will often take phones that still work. If they don’t, try to recycle your phone though a charitable organization instead of a retailer. That’s because BAN also found that charity organizations are more likely to actually recycle phones instead of sending them to a foreign trash dump. And in any case, try to be sensible buying electronics. To quote Alexander the Great: “Whatever possession we gain by our sword cannot be sure or lasting, but the love gained by kindness and moderation is certain and durable.”