From deforestation to toxic mud lakes & # 039;: How to build a smartphone devastates Earth

In the photo, there is the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon, caused by the illegal extraction of gold. Almost five billion people around the world will own a smartphone by the year 2020; Many of the key technological features of this device would not be possible without precious metals, such as gold.

Smartphones have become a basic feature of modern life, as people update their devices on a regular basis in an attempt to keep up with the latest features.

However, few stop to consider the serious environmental impact that this addiction to gadgets is having on the planet.

When writing for The Conversation, a couple of scientists highlight three of the most damaging effects that the construction of a smartphone can have on Earth.

The catastrophic spills of mining waste, the destruction of the ecosystem and a lake of toxic runoff in China are a clear reminder of the devastation caused by the industry.

Dr. Patrick Byrne, a researcher at Liverpool's John Moores University, and Karen Hudson-Edwards, a scientist at the University of Exeter, argue that, as consumers, we should dismiss the idea that smartphones are a disposable item.

In the photo, there is the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon, caused by the illegal extraction of gold. Almost five billion people around the world will own a smartphone by the year 2020; Many of the key technological features of this device would not be possible without precious metals, such as gold.

In the photo, there is the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon, caused by the illegal extraction of gold. Almost five billion people around the world will own a smartphone by the year 2020; Many of the key technological features of this device would not be possible without precious metals, such as gold.

Nearly five billion people around the world will use a smartphone by 2020.

Each device is made up of numerous precious metals and many of the key technological features would not be possible without them.

Some, like gold, will be familiar. Others, like terbium, are less known.

The mining of these metals is a vital activity that underpins the modern global economy.

But the environmental cost can be huge and probably much greater than you think.

Let's look at some of the key metals in smartphones, what they do, and the environmental cost of getting them out of the ground.

Catastrophic spills of mining waste

Iron (20%), aluminum (14%) and copper (7%) are the three most common metals by weight on your average smartphone.

Iron is used in speakers and microphones and in stainless steel frames.

Aluminum is used as a lightweight alternative to stainless steel and also in the manufacture of rugged glass used in smart phone screens.

Copper is used in electrical wiring.

However, when these metals are extracted from the earth, huge volumes of solid and liquid waste (called "waste") are produced.

The village of Bento Rodrigues, in Brazil, was buried under a wave of toxic mud in November 2015. According to experts, these catastrophic failures in mine tailings will only increase as the number of these structures increases to meet the growing demand.

The village of Bento Rodrigues, in Brazil, was buried under a wave of toxic mud in November 2015. According to experts, these catastrophic failures in mine tailings will only increase as the number of these structures increases to meet the growing demand.

The village of Bento Rodrigues, in Brazil, was buried under a wave of toxic mud in November 2015. According to experts, these catastrophic failures in mine tailings will only increase as the number of these structures increases to meet the growing demand.

Typically, mine tailings are stored in vast reservoir structures that can be several square kilometers in area.

Recent catastrophic spills of mine tailings highlight the danger of inadequate construction methods and lax safety monitoring.

The biggest spill occurred in November 2015 when a dam collapsed in an iron mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, releasing approximately 33 million cubic meters (enough to fill 23,000 Olympic swimming pools) for iron-rich waste in the Doce River.

The waste flooded local villages and killed 19 people and traveled 400 miles (650 km) until it reached the Atlantic Ocean 17 days later.

This was just one of 40 spills of mining waste that have occurred in the last decade and the long-term impacts on human and ecological health remain largely unknown.

However, one thing is clear: as our thirst for technology increases, mine tailings dams are increasing in number and size, and so is their risk of failure.

HOW SERIOUS IS THE ADDICTION TO SMARTPHONE?

With the average age for a child to get their first phone now only 10, young people are increasingly dependent on their smartphones.

A troubling research from the University of Korea suggests that this dependence on technology may even be affecting the brains of some teenagers.

The findings reveal that teens who are addicted to their smartphones are more likely to suffer from mental disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Other studies have shown that people are so dependent on their smartphone that they happily break the social label to use them.

Researchers from the mobile connectivity company iPass surveyed more than 1,700 people in the US. UU And Europe about their connectivity habits, preferences and expectations.

The survey revealed some of the most inappropriate situations in which people have felt the need to check their phone: during sex (seven percent), in the bathroom (72 percent) and even during a funeral (11 percent) .

Nearly two-thirds of people said they felt anxious when they were not connected to Wi-Fi, and many said they would give up a variety of articles and activities in exchange for a connection.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said Wi-Fi was not possible: more than sex (58 percent), junk food (42 percent), smoking (41 percent), alcohol (33 percent) , or drugs (31 percent).

A quarter of respondents even said they would choose Wi-Fi instead of bathing or showering, and 19 percent said they would choose Wi-Fi on human contact.

Destruction of the ecosystem

Gold and tin are common in smartphones.

But the extraction of these metals is responsible for the ecological devastation of the Peruvian Amazon to the tropical islands of Indonesia.

Gold in smart phones is mainly used to make connectors and cables, but gold mining is one of the main causes of deforestation in the Amazon.

In addition, the extraction of gold from the earth generates waste rich in cyanide and mercury, two highly toxic substances that can contaminate drinking water and fish, with serious implications for human health.

Tin is used to solder in electronics.

Indium and tin oxide is applied to smart phone screens as a thin, transparent and conductive coating that provides touchscreen functionality.

The seas surrounding the Bangka and Belitung Islands of Indonesia supply approximately one third of the world's supply.

However, large-scale dredging of the seabed for tin-rich sand has destroyed the precious coral ecosystem, while the decline of the fishing industry has caused economic and social problems.

The most polluted place on the planet?

What makes your smartphone smart?

Those will be the elements of rare earths: a group of 17 metals with strange names like praseodymium that are extracted mainly in China, Russia and Australia.

Often referred to as "technological metals", rare earths are fundamental to the design and function of smart phones.

Smart phones, microphones and phone vibration are made possible by small but powerful motors and magnets made of neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium.

The world's technological waste lake & # 39; in Baotou, China. This is perhaps the most disturbing example of the environmental cost of thirst for our smartphone, says Dr. Patrick Byrne. Created in 1958, this artificial lake collects the toxic mud from rare earth processing operations

The world's technological waste lake & # 39; in Baotou, China. This is perhaps the most disturbing example of the environmental cost of thirst for our smartphone, says Dr. Patrick Byrne. Created in 1958, this artificial lake collects the toxic mud from rare earth processing operations

The world's technological waste lake & # 39; in Baotou, China. This is perhaps the most disturbing example of the environmental cost of thirst for our smartphone, says Dr. Patrick Byrne. Created in 1958, this artificial lake collects the toxic mud from rare earth processing operations

According to the latest estimates, the Earth will run out of some of the rare materials, such as terbium and dysprosium, which are used in modern smartphones in the next 20 or 50 years.

According to the latest estimates, the Earth will run out of some of the rare materials, such as terbium and dysprosium, which are used in modern smartphones in the next 20 or 50 years.

According to the latest estimates, the Earth will run out of some of the rare materials, such as terbium and dysprosium, which are used in modern smartphones in the next 20 or 50 years.

Terbium and dysprosium are also used to produce the vibrant colors of the screen of a smartphone.

The extraction of rare earths is a difficult and dirty business, which generally involves the use of sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids and the production of large quantities of highly toxic waste.

Perhaps the most disturbing and stimulating example of the environmental cost of our thirst for smartphones is the "lake of technological waste of the world". in Baotou, China.

Created in 1958, this artificial lake collects the toxic mud from rare earth processing operations.

The valuable metals used to make smartphones are a limited resource.

Recent estimates indicate that we will run out of rare earths in the next 20 to 50 years, which makes you wonder if smartphones will still exist at that time.

Reducing the environmental impact of using smartphones requires manufacturers to extend the life of products, make recycling easier, and be open about where they get their metals and the environmental impact.

Throughout the world, mining companies have made great strides in the practice of more sustainable mining.

But we, as consumers, must also consider that smart phones are a less disposable item and more a precious resource that carries a huge environmental burden.

Dr. Patrick Byrne is a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, and Karen Hudson-Edwards works as a scientist at the University of Exeter.

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

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