Doing Our Part for Healthy Smartphone Management

Only citizen action will get brands to change their life-destroying practices and produce fewer phones.

We cannot survive as a species if we do not measure the total costs to the Earth and the environment of our activities. This total cost accounting begins with examining how the things we use on a day-to-day basis are made.

Toxic Impact of Typical Smartphone

Thea Kleinmagd is a circular material chains innovator at Fairphone. I started our chat by asking Thea to describe the potential toxic impacts of some of the over 50 different materials found in a typical smartphone.

“More than 70% of the total human and ecological toxicity is caused during the production of a phone,” Thea replied. “The toxic substances are not necessarily the substances in the phone itself. It can be that the substances used in production are the toxic ones. The gold in the phone is often washed out from the ore using mercury, which is a toxic and very unhealthy substance to work with. This is why it’s so important to hold on to your phone as long as possible. Lead is still used in the printed circuit boards and the LCD screens. Other problematic substances include flame retardants, which are very hazardous materials and very hard to recycle because they are basically spread through the different plastics.”

Related Article: Design Products With Eye for More Sustainable World

Wrong Path Toward Recycling

Less than 20% of e-waste is recycled. The BBC reported that 5.3 billion phones will be thrown away in 2022.

“There are quite a few, for example, that end up in household waste,” Thea explains. “That means that the phone takes a different route to recycle. It goes into base metal recycling, and these processes are not focused on taking care of hazardous materials and preventing them from escaping into the environment. If they are illegally exported to places like Africa, then they often end up in the informal recycling sector. Then they are ‘recycled,’ but the conditions are very unhealthy and very polluting for the people who work in this sector. Often the plastics of the phone are burned, releasing toxic emissions into the air, and those will come down again and enter the soil and water.”

Related Article: Smartphones and Laptops Are Chemical Reactors

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