Friday, 12 June 2015

Here at BBHS Eco Group, mobile phone recycling is something we hope to encourage throughout both the school and local community. We wish to do this by asking ask you to donate your old mobile phones to us. Although most wouldn't think to recycle old mobile phones, research has shown that metals we use in everyday life are not disposed of correctly and therefore put to waste which obviously has a detrimental effect on the environment. For perspective on how much we use nowadays; one hundred years ago barely 12 materials were widely used, these mainly being wood and clay. Nowadays, however, over 60 elements are found in the common computer chip.
An example of a rare element sitting in your unused smart phones is Indium. The Indium industry is expanding constantly to keep up with demand, however it is rare. You will find Indium in your touch-screen devices as well as many other electronic devices. The BBC, as well as many other sources say that Indium will have been exhausted as early as 2017 and therefore new phones and tablets may be getting very expensive or even non-existent. This isn't the whole truth however. Although Indium is running out, trace amounts can be found in soils and by-products of other refining processes. Furthermore, others reporting say that Indium won’t run out in 2017, but it will run out very soon. 2025 for instance is another estimation of when Indium could run out. Although that seems a long time away, it is sooner than you think and if Indium were to run out and research into substitutes for Indium with carbon nanotubes, etc. turned out to be rubbish, we may have to revert back to big clunky, non-touch phones and TVs and I doubt many will be joyed to hear this! This shows how big a need for phone recycling is as we could re-use ITO (Indium Tin Oxide) used in mobile phones for the production of newer phones whilst we find a viable replacement.
Indium isn't the only rare element in your phones, however. Another extremely rare metal is primarily found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is called Coltan. Saying Coltan is important in phones is a huge understatement for it is used in a much larger spectrum of electronic devices. However, phones use Coltan after refining into Tantalum to make small Tantalum capacitors, which are a crucial component to make our handhelds smaller and holing more power. The average phone contains about 40 milligrams of this stuff in it, and it is used so widely due to its natural corrosion protection and high capacity in small volumes. Furthermore, Tantalum can also be used to help improve sound quality in mobile phones and Tantalum capacitors also have an extremely small failure rate. It's not that rare there can be complications when trying to obtain it, however. Much of the extraction and obtaining financed a civil war and wars between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo because of the high usage and dependence of this material in the modern world. Lots of mining operations were carried out illegally by rebels and militias to be sold on the black market as its ability to hold and move electrical signals and its conductive ability in extreme temperatures make it ideal for smart bomb guidance controls. (read about these conflicts here and here).  There’s not much to be done about this, however. Governments have looked at geo-tagging the Coltan in order to control conflicts. This would be no use however if the governments in China and India did not comply. As mentioned previously, the reason for recycling phones to obtain this material is not purely based on amount, but also to help properly develop the Democratic Republic of Congo to prevent more civil wars.
Other materials to think about when thinking about recycling your old phones include Lithium. The battery in your phone almost certainly contains Lithium however there aren't currently huge concerns regarding availability, especially considering Tesla’s plans to make more Lithium-Ion batteries annually in one factory than were made worldwide in 2013. Research into smaller and more efficient batteries is constantly being carried out, but who knows when we might need an abundance of Lithium in the future?
Once again we do urge you to recycle old unused phones, as this could really make a difference, not only in the technology industry but also to lessen terrible conflicts and improve life for all.


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