Posted by JR Olson | Posted in Conservation | Posted on 09-10-2015
Cell phones and smartphones are an increasingly necessary part of everyday living. Their use has exploded in the last decade, with the United Nations recently noting that 6 billion people own them, and that by 2014 the number of cellphones will exceed the world’s population.
Why So Many Cell Phones?
Most cell phone manufacturers roll out a new model of their flagship product every year or two. This practice increases demand and desire for the latest phone with the best and latest features and upgrades. With so many people discarding perfectly usable telephones on a virtually annual basis, one can well envision a global landfill problem!
How Big Is the Disposal Problem?
Cell phones contain a large number of non-biodegradable materials, such as heavy metals, glass and plastic. Many of the heavy metals in the processor and battery are toxic to the environment and human health. Among the metals are arsenic, antimony, copper, cadmium, beryllium and lead, all of which need to be handled carefully. Multiply the trace amounts of these metals by six billion, and the size of the disposal problem comes into focus.
Manufacturing cell phones by the billions may be good for shareholders but it’s bad for the environment. All manufacturing processes have a carbon footprint and cell phones are no exception. The sheer number of cell phones being manufactured increases the scope and size of mining operations in multiple countries, many of which are located in or near endangered wildlife habitats. For example, cell phones contain a mineral called coltan, which is mined in Africa in gorilla habitats.
Most of the world is well aware of the benefits of recycling everything from paper and plastic to metal and glass. While it’s true that recycling has a carbon footprint of its own, it is much smaller than that of manufacturing. At the same time, recycling reduces the need for more mining and more factories by keeping older cell phones either in operation or through extracting already mined materials and using them to make new phones.
Methods of Recycling
In the U.S., there are many certified recyclers that handle cell phones under strict environmental guidelines and regulations. Some recyclers have partnerships with nonprofit institutions and organizations. For example, the University of Cincinnati has a partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo and a recycler. Proceeds from the recycling of cell phones go in part to fund the zoo’s field conservation efforts.
Another method of recycling involves reuse of the cell phones. Some organizations are set up to donate used phones to underserved communities, or to stockpile them for use during emergencies like floods and hurricanes.
A Final Word on Conservation
Recycling is always a choice. When a product is no longer usable, it’s natural to discard it, especially in cultures where access to new products is easy and inexpensive, but one day, the tipping point will arrive and there will be more cell phones than people on the planet. This degree of growth is unprecedented in human history, and it is unsustainable. Recycling helps alleviate the damage caused by this explosive growth, keeping cell phones operating throughout their entire life cycle, then taking them apart for reuse. In every way, recycling cell phones makes sense.
Jay Bradford is a freelance tech writer focusing on cell phones, gadgetry, computers, futuristic technology and other topics; S4 owners should take a peek at the S4 insurance brand Protectyourbubble.com.