Think twice before you toss that outdated iPhone in the trash! Did you know that your smartphone is made up of raw materials including copper, lead, cobalt, silver, lithium oxide, and plastic produced using crude oil? Both energy and valuable resources are used to manufacture electronics. Mining to extract the rare minerals for smartphones generates toxic waste which contaminates soil and drinking water and damages fragile ecosystems. To obtain lithium for phone batteries, vast lakes must be evaporated, depriving local farmers of water for irrigation, and mining for gold in the Amazon often involves child labor and is a primary cause of deforestation. Places as far flung as Chile and the Democratic Republic of Congo have paid a huge environmental price as foreign companies decimate their natural resources in the quest for rare-earth metals.
And because the vast majority of smartphones–including iPhone, Samsung, and LG–are manufactured in China and South Korea, the devices have to travel a long distance to reach the consumer, using fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gas and contribute to climate change. Smartphones are responsible for more greenhouse gasses than any other electronic device and the average American purchases a new phone every two years, without recycling the old one.
So, what can we do to mitigate this environmental crisis? First, consider extending the life of your phone by waiting longer to replace it, or by reselling it, or donating it to charity. If you do need to dispose of it, dropping your phone off at a verified recycling center will allow its metals, plastics, and battery to be repurposed. Fewer than 15% of Americans recycle their smartphones, and the devices end up in landfills where their toxic metals can contaminate soil. Simply recycling unused phones can preserve precious resources and reduce air and water pollution in vulnerable communities.