A phone is much more than it appears on the surface. It’s an assemblage of elements from multiple countries linked to environmental impacts on a global scale.
As of 2018, there are 2.5Bn smartphones users around the world. If we broke open all the newest phone which is just a fraction of the total that have been built and split them into their component parts, that would produce around 85k Kg of Gold, 8,75k of Silver and 40million Kg of Copper. Gold, Silver and Copper are just a few elements of the 70 or so chemical elements that make up the average smartphone. These elements can be divided into two groups: Rare elements and precious elements. Rare elements are found in many areas across the world in low concentrations and extracting these elements from the earth is linked to some disturbing environmental impacts.
Their extraction requires mining which destroys huge belt of natural habitat, causes air and water pollution threatening the health of nearby communities. Other type of elements also have similar impacts of vast habitat destruction as well as air and water pollution. It comes with many social problems too like large scale human and animal displacement to make way for industrialization and poor working conditions. Lastly, its phone production requires petroleum one of the main drivers of climate change. All these elements are limited and they’ll simply run out one day. Also according to a survey, ¾ of smartphone sales are for people replacing their phones, while the phone they have is still working fine.
There is a lot of business scope towards circular and resource efficient design than the traditional model of produce, use and dispose. The FICCI circular economy report 2017, clearly outlines that the business opportunity for extracting gold from e-waste is to the tune of $0.7 – $1 billion. Furthermore, 1 ton of ore has an extractable reserve of about 1.4 gms of gold while a ton of mobile phone PCBs can produce about 1.5 kgs. This will lead to formalization of the informal sector and lead to mitigation of health and environmental impacts. Furthermore, it will enhance resource security which is key to success of missions like Make in India.
What you can do?
What you can do to overcome all these negative outcomes from the production and dumping of phones?
One of the solutions is to invent and develop fully sustainable smartphones. Think about design of products which would be circular in nature & allow for better disposal practices from consumers. The smartphone can be made modular with swappable and easily repairable parts, so that you don’t have to ditch it and get a new one only because of a cracked screen. Design centric approach should be followed so that dismantling and recycling for recovery materials is made easier. One can think on the lines Fairphone. The ethical and modular phone that’s built to last.
Other solution is to refurbish & recycle the smartphones. Because according to market research firm Persistence Marketing Research, global revenue of refurbished devices will reach $38.9Bn in 2025.
The table below shows the quantum and potential value of raw materials which can be extracted from e-waste in the year 2016.
How to innovate?
But we know that developing new or improving any existing technology requires innovation which in turn needs research, guidance from experts and help how to monetize your innovation. Here we can help you step by step on this journey from educating about how to develop new technology or improve an existing technology till the end point of monetizing it.
We at Bots `N Brains have started an innovation revolution aimed at reinventing India as an innovation nation. Join us to solve India’s own problems and make huge impact.