Where does your phone come from? | The Economist


The number of cell phone users globally is set to reach 2.5 billion by 2019. Around a third of the world’s
population will own one. Smartphones touch every
element of our lives. But did you know that they
also connect nearly every element on the planet. In fact, of the 118 elements
on the periodic table, 75 can be found inside a smartphone. These raw materials are
extracted from the ground and shipped to refineries and factories in a truly global supply chain. Silicon. One of the most common
elements in the earth’s crust, is used to make the billions
of transistors in the chips that power your phone. Gold is used for electrical wiring. About 0.03 grams of it in each iPhone. Indium, another metal, is
used to make touch screens. But when it comes to batteries, lithium is one of the key components, and this element is only mined
in a handful of countries. Until recently, Chile used
to produce the most lithium. But now Australia has
the biggest market share. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a dangerously unstable country with a poor human rights record, produces more than half
the world’s cobalt, another crucial element
in smartphone batteries. Smartphone makers are under
pressure to ensure their cobalt is responsibly sourced. About 80% of the cobalt used in batteries is refined in China. Many so-called rare-earth elements are also used in smartphones, in the screen, the speaker, and the motor that makes
your phone vibrate. About 85% of rare-earth
elements are produced in China. Despite their name, rare-earth elements are not particularly rare, but they are hard to extract without producing toxic
and radioactive byproducts. Many of the elements used in smartphones are finite resources, and have no functional substitutes. Rather than digging in the
ground for the elements needed for new handsets, it makes sense to extract
them from old phones. But only about 10% of
handsets are recycled now. So recycle your phone if
you get a new one this year. Why? It is, you might say, elementary.

38 Replies to “Where does your phone come from? | The Economist

  1. They explore other continent and put its people under poorness and starvation then they wonder why there is an immigration problem ..

  2. So watch what you use your phone for because it is made by producing toxic and the slaves those who worked in dangerous mines.

  3. I think this is how an issues becomes the most trending like right now the thing which I most heard of is about how the electronics are not properly recycled or dumbed, and the problems that the e-waste is creating by any means not a thing to be ignored.

  4. old cell-phones are worth money. sell them on Craigslist or to a recycling company. or give them to a good course who collect them for recycling

  5. But the real question is: how can I recycle my phone? I mean I'm from Italy and there is no advertising about campaigns for phone recycling, one thing that I think is great and one of the example of the cyrcular economy we need to develop in the future, in order to reduce the consumption of natural resources.

  6. 2.5 Bn are not gonna own the smartphone.. just about half of them will have one.. people buy new smartphones as soon as the new model gets in or in a 2-3 years. the research didn't see that..

  7. Excellent video. Very illustrative and concise. It'd be great if it had subtitles in several languages to reach a larger audience, but since they're not available, I'll at least put the Spanish translation in here.

    ¿De dónde viene tu teléfono?
    El número de usuarios de teléfonos inteligentes a nivel global se espera que llegue a los 2.5 mil millones en 2019. Alrededor de un tercio de la población mundial tendrá uno. Los teléfonos inteligentes tocan cada elemento de nuestras vidas, ¿pero sabías que también conectan casi todos los elementos en el planeta? De hecho, de los 118 elementos en la tabla periódica, 75 pueden encontrarse dentro de un teléfono inteligente. Estas materias primas se extraen de la tierra y se embarcan hacia refinerías y fábricas en una cadena de suministro verdaderamente global. El silicio, uno de los elementos más comunes en la corteza terrestre, se usa para hacer los miles de millones de transistores en los chips que hacen funcionar tu celular. El oro se usa en el cableado eléctrico, alrededor de 0.030 g en cada iPhone. El indio, otro metal, se usa para hacer pantallas táctiles. Pero tratándose de baterías, el litio es uno de los componentes clave y este elemento sólo se extrae en un puñado de países. Hasta hace poco, Chile solía ser el mayor productor de litio, pero ahora Australia tiene la mayor proporción del mercado. La República Democrática del Congo, un país peligrosamente inestable con un pobre registro en derechos humanos, produce más de la mitad del cobalto del mundo, otro elemento crucial en las baterías de los teléfonos inteligentes. Los fabricantes se encuentran bajo presión para asegurar que su cobalto provenga de fuentes con manejo responsable; un 80% del cobalto usado en baterías se refina en China. Muchos de los llamados elementos de “tierras raras”, también se usan en teléfonos inteligentes, en la pantalla, las bocinas y el motor que lo hace vibrar. Alrededor del 85% de las tierras raras se producen en China. Pese a su nombre, las tierras raras no son particularmente raras, pero son difíciles de extraer sin producir desechos tóxicos y radioactivos. Muchos de los elementos usados en los teléfonos inteligentes son recursos finitos y no tienen sustitutos funcionales. En vez de excavar en la tierra en busca de elementos para nuevos dispositivos, tiene sentido extraerlos de celulares viejos, pero sólo un 10% de los dispositivos se recicla ahora. Así que recicla tu teléfono si consigues uno nuevo este año. ¿Por qué? Se podría decir que es… elemental.

  8. Or you can give your old phone after you upgrade to the latest model to someone who has no phone or currently using a worse phone than your current phone.

  9. Blacks in Africa for 200,000 years
    Yet no big developed African Civilization
    200,000 years of Dindoo Nuffin
    Its the White Man's Fault ?

  10. It is funny to be told about thing like this. I can change my hardware of techno probably yearly but I don’t. As long as they are still useful enough and work as they should then reasons to change should come with smartness. Just by simple thinking, I help reducing the negative impacts of techno. Mostly like everything else in life, commonsense.

  11. Why would people elect to literally give away their old phones when you just said that the materials used to make them are so valuable and labor intensive? If I’m gonna recycle my phone, I need to be compensated.

  12. Very informative…but i think the part with the kids from the democratic republic of Congo mining coltan should touch the viewer emotionally

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