Cell Phones - An Inconvenient Convenience Part 2

Updated: Jan 1

Its time for part 2.....are you ready?

Lets begin by understanding that our screens have an impact that goes beyond the human race.


Because everything, even our cell phones are made from materials that come from the Earth.

The ingredients in our phones can be sorted into two different categories:

  • Rare Earth elements

  • Precious metals

Rare Earth elements are a selection of 17 different elements that are all found in Earth's crust. These elements have magnetic, phosphorescent, and conductive properties that make them vital in the production of cell phones and other electronics. The elements are used for the screens, magnets, colour display, connectivity and vibrating in cell phones. Of the 17 different rare elements, cell phones and other electronics may contain as many as 16.

Precious metals used in cell phones include copper, aluminum, silver, platinum and gold. Yup, that's right your phone is a goldmine. These metals are used for the wiring, circuit boards and casing of a cell phone.

Cell phone even contain toxic materials such as cadmium, lead, mercury and PVCs (polyvinyl chlorides) as well as petroleum, one of the largest drivers of climate change.

The mining of rare Earth elements and precious metals has a huge impact on the environment and results in habitat destruction, air and water pollution, along with a massive carbon footprint. The average cell phone has a life span of about two years and the mining of rare elements and metals actually accounts to 85-95% of the total Carbon Dioxide emissions for those two years. So if that didn't make sense the first time around, 85-95% of the CO2 emitted by your cell phone over the period of two years, is the result of the material mining and manufacture of your phone.

Mining also results in massive amounts of waste, from topsoil and waste rock that need to be removed to get to the metal, to toxic substances and heavy metals. This results in erosion, land destruction, contamination of rivers and waterways, and toxic smog. More than 100 kg of mining waste is generated to simply extract gold for a circuit board for a single cell phone.

Buying a new smart phone consumes as much energy as using your existing phone for an entire decade.

Phone models are constantly evolving, getting bigger, better, faster and 'smarter' with each new version. Unfortunately that means that more resources have to go into the manufacture process resulting in a bigger carbon footprint. In fact the bigger the size of your phone screen the larger its carbon footprint will be and Apple publicly disclosed that building the iPhone7 Plus creates roughly 10% more CO2 emissions than the iPhone6.

Your screen could produce more CO2 than your car.

It is estimated that by 2040 the ICT (Information and Communication Industry), which includes all PCs, laptops, monitors, phones and servers, will account for 14% of total carbon emissions, that's half as large as the impact of the entire transportation industry.

Let alone the manufacture and use of cell phones, the disposal is even worse. Less than 1% of cell phones are recycled and even the recycling is questionable, requiring vast amounts of resources in order to disassemble and safely melt down the various components. Cell phone waste is usually sent overseas to be handled by another country (yup, no one takes responsibility for their crap!), and often the messy and dangerous job of taking these devices apart is put upon women and children in these poorer countries. Just like with the fast fashion industry, these women and children work under horrible conditions, are paid next to nothing and are exposed to the harmful chemicals that leach from the cell phones.

Every search, refresh, text or email counts...

Servers and data centers produce 45% of the ICT's carbon emissions. These servers and data centers are what allow us to search things on Google, message friends, post photos, refresh our feed, send emails - you get the idea - they are basically what allow us to use the Internet. Why? Because every little action we take requires a computer (or server) somewhere out there in the big wide world to calculate it into the vast and mysterious Cloud. Pretty hectic when you think about....

But could our searches become sustainable?

It's a big question and one that I'm not sure humanity has the answer for. Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have all pledged to convert to 100% renewable energy within their operations and already all of Apple servers are run on renewable energy. Search engines like Ecosia plant trees for every search you make, helping to offset the carbon footprint.

However the demand for cell phones is still growing and the manufacture and production of these devices isn't getting much better. Its a massive issue to tackle and one that needs to be urgently assessed.

But I don't want to leave you feeling blue because what's the use in that! We have the power to create change, and change starts within ourselves. There so many things we can do to lessen our impacts and the amazing thing is that they're not even huge changes, they're just shifts in our habits. A new normal. And the biggest thing we can do is not give up. Don't give up on yourself, don't give up on humanity and don't give up on the planet.

"Cell phones are such a convenience, they're an inconvenience."

~Haruki Murakani~





https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIdJ22AfsO8&t=5s https://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/mining/

Copyright Sahara-Naomi 2019