As of 2018, there are around 2.5 billion smartphone users in the world. If we broke open all the newest phones and split them into their component parts, that would produce around 85,000 kg of gold, 875,000 of silver, and 40,000,000 of copper. How did this precious cache get into our phones–and can we reclaim it? Kim Preshoff investigates the sustainability of phone production.
“Another group of ingredients in smartphones comes with similar environmental risks: these are metals such as copper, silver, palladium, aluminum, platinum, tungsten, tin, lead, and gold. We also mine magnesium, lithium, silica, and potassium to make phones, and all of it is associated with vast habitat destruction, as well as air and water pollution. Mining comes with worrying social problems, too, like large-scale human and animal displacement to make way for industrial operations, and frequently, poor working conditions for laborers.”