Can you imagine life without your smartphone? What would you do without access to your phone, social media, and the internet in your pocket? In the near future, this may be something you have to consider.
Scientists from the European Chemical Society say that certain elements that go into making your smartphone are becoming scarce. These endangered elements are running out due to a lack of supply, the fact that they’re usually found in dangerous areas of the planet, and a lack of recycling.
Their advice? Stop changing your phone so often.
Ready to learn why your smartphone could become an endangered species? Read on!
What Are Smartphones Made of?
A large variety of different minerals go into that technological marvel in your pocket. The screen is made of aluminum oxide, silicon dioxide, and indium tin oxide. Metals in the body of the phone include gold, lithium cobalt oxide, copper, and dysprosium.
These aren’t common metals. Consider the number of times that you’ve ever thrown a smartphone away. Those metals inside are lost for good.
Which Chemical Elements are Endangered Elements?
According to the European Chemical Society, some of these elements that go into making smartphones could become difficult to source in fewer than 100 years. The aforementioned indium, for example, makes your touchscreen work. It is thought that within 20 years, sourcing indium will become far more expensive due to shortages.
Other elements used in tech that feature in the ECA’s worrying periodic table of elements include tin, tungsten, and gold.
It isn’t only smartphones that are affected, either. Before the ECA drew up this list, the American Chemical Society also listed 62 endangered elements. These include:
- Gallium, used in semiconductors. Semiconductors are crucial for a massive range of technology, including TVs and Blu-Ray players.
- Selenium, used in X-ray machines and batteries.
- Hafnium, used in nuclear reactors.
Why Are We Running out of Elements?
There are a number of different factors contributing to element scarcity in the tech industry. First and foremost is a lack of recycling. Many of these elements could be reclaimed from smartphones, but are often thrown away instead.
But even when they are recycled, the recycling process is often not efficient enough.
Some other elements are not endangered but can be traced back to conflict zones. This places consumers in an ethical dilemma, as their purchases potentially prop up warlords and result in deaths.
The ECA noted that tin, tungsten, and gold are particularly prone to coming from conflict zones. Cobalt has also previously been noted as coming from mines linked to child labor.
What Can We Do to Solve This Problem?
A number of solutions to the problem of endangered elements were proposed by the study. Recycling processes should be made more efficient, and the use of endangered elements should be limited in new smartphones. Ideally, consumers will also stop changing smartphones as frequently.
Elements could also be synthesized, where practical. It is possible that if these changes are not made, smartphones and a range of other tech, could themselves become an endangered species.
For more interesting facts about the modern digital world, check out the other articles on our site.