Another Apple product launch brought good news for technology lovers, and bad news for the environment and workers in developing countries.
Three new models were introduced at Apple’s Keynote address this Tuesday held at the new Steve Jobs theater, including the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and the much-anticipated iPhone X, a higher-priced luxury model that will cost customers $1,000.
To be sure, the new models will come packed with plenty of features meant to entice customers. Many people are very excited, and analysts are already predicting that the new phones could break all previous sales records.
But before you wait in line for hours, or clog up Apple’s website with orders, spending some time learning about the tremendous environmental and human impact of your smartphone might make you reconsider how much you really care that you can unlock your phone with your face.
Here are three ways your new iPhone could be harming Planet Earth:
1. Mining for Rare Earth Metals Pollutes the Globe, and Harms Local Communities
According to a report by TechRadar, over 62 types of metals are used in the average smart phone. Sixteen of those metals are classified as “rare earth metals,” which are often refined in parts of rural China.
A report by the BBC detailed many of the impacts of mining operations taking place in inner Mongolia, and the results were not pretty.
Reporter Tim Maughan described a pool of toxic runoff as looking like “an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.” He also wrote that there was a constant smell of sulphur in the air, the result of the cerium extraction process that requires the creation of hazardous toxic waste. All of the water in the area was turned black by coal dust, and the lake created as a byproduct of the manufacturing process is so big it can be found on Google Maps.
Maughan suspects the reason that so much of this type of mineral refining is done in China is less about their access to raw materials as it is about their willingness to allow such polluting processes to take place.
Another report from Motherboard detailed some of the human costs to these mining operations.
In Bolivia, over 15,000 workers, some of them as young as 6-years-old, enter mines in search of tin, lead, and zinc, all of which are used in iPhone production. The nickname locals have bestowed upon the nearly hollowed-out mine is “The Mountain That Eats Men,” due to the dangerous nature of the work there. In 2008, over sixty children were killed inside the mines.
2. Smartphone Manufacturing is a Huge Source of Greenhouse Emissions
According to Greenpeace, almost three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions connected with smartphone production and distribution are created during the manufacturing process.
A video shared on the organization’s Twitter highlighted the many costs of our smartphone culture, including the fact that most of the technology needed to create the devices are coal-powered.
A 2014 study by Juniper Research, quoted in CNET, also found that charging smartphones creates a massive amount of greenhouse emissions. They predicted that by 2019, 13 megatons of emissions will have been released by this seemingly innocuous process.
3. People Don’t Recycle Their Old Devices, and E-Waste is Building Up
Greenpeace reports that since the inception of the smartphone in 2007, over 7.1 billion devices have been manufactured. With the release of newer, “better” models of phones each year, folks are constantly looking to upgrade their devices and get rid of their older ones.
The problem is that they are not properly recycling these old devices, and the consequences are seriously harmful to the health of the planet.
A UN study from 2014 found that only 16% of all e-waste is recycled — a small number considering that 41.8 million tons of e-waste was created in 2014 alone. Developing countries are often tasked with the handling of this dangerous waste, where it is often dismantled and burned, according to reports from the Population Reference Bureau.
The report also claims that the processes involved in the often unregulated “recycling” centers in these countries place workers at the risk of of developing pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.
Given the realities of smartphone manufacturing, customers should consider the true cost of buying the latest and greatest.
In the end, they might find, that money would be better spent elsewhere.