Products and Natural Resources the IPhone
The world of technology is constantly evolving, and the devices that we use every single day are becoming more and more high tech. One of the world leaders in communication devices is Apple, a multi-billion dollar industry that has developed some of the most sought-after phones, watches, laptops, and tablets. I personally know multiple people who buy every single new iPhone that Apple releases, trading in their fully functioning phone for a newer phone that society has deemed as ‘better’.
In a recent communications survey that I conducted for my Anthropology class, I asked 50 students “how many phones have you ever owned?”. Out of the 50 participants, 70% (35 people) said that they have owned 4 or more phones in their lifetime. According to both Apple and Samsung, phones should last an average of 2-4 years dependent on usage, battery life, external damage, etc. If my surveyed participants purchased a new phone every 3 years, that means that they have been using a phone for approximately 12 years. This raises a red flag for me because the ages of everyone I surveyed were between 15 and 19. Personally, I don’t know anyone who owned a phone at 3 years old…
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After my previous phone died in 2016, I decided to purchase the iPhone 6s. I use my phone every single day to call and text my friends and to keep in touch with my family. For my assignment on Products and Natural Resources, I want to look into the different natural resources that are in the iPhone 6s.
Are you aware of what you hold in your hands? It’s the product of a combination of natural resources that is obtained through mining rocks. The iPhone would not be possible without the extraordinary raw materials that line the insides of the case. Our society is experiencing a massive disconnect between the devices that we use and the variety and quantity of materials it takes to build them.
The typical iPhone is estimated to contain roughly 25 grams of aluminum, 15 grams of copper, 5-10 grams of cobalt, 0.034 grams of gold, 0.34 grams of silver, 0.015 grams of palladium, and less than one-thousandth of a gram of platinum. The range of rare earth elements found in the iPhone 6s are actually quite plentiful in the Earth’s crust but extremely difficult to mine and extract economically.
One ton of ore yields about 0.8 grams of gold, 21 pounds of copper, 419 grams of silver, and 9.4 grams of platinum. In order to create one iPhone, this would mean that one ton of ore needs to be mined; however, the materials used to manufacture the iPhone are sourced from all over the world. According to this website, the mines used to extract different types of metals range from Peru to Australia. This means that in order to create one iPhone, one ton of ore would have to be mined in Peru just for the required amount of gold needed to allow an iPhone to function properly.
The amount of metal in your smartphone is present in a relatively small amount – so lets take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Over 1 billion iPhones have been sold worldwide in the past 10 years, and more than 2 billion people currently own a smartphone. “What’s more, the concentration of some of these elements, such as gold and silver in a mobile phone is actually much higher than their concentration in an equivalent weight of ore. One tonne of iPhones would deliver 300 times more gold than a tonne of gold ore and 6.5 times more silver than a tonne of silver ore”.
Approximately 4,000,000 tons of ore (that’s a lot of zeroes) has been mined since 2007 just to meet the demands of the electronic industry specifically for smartphones. This means that millions of tons of dirt has been drilled out of the Earth in order to make all of the pretty iPhones and other smartphones that the modern day American goes through like a box of tissues.
And phones aren’t the only daily product that humans use every day. There are cars, laptops, kitchen appliances, clothes, hygiene products, and the constant flood of new inventions (such as air pods). Think about how many millions of pounds of rock have been mined to make the products that we use in our daily lives. We need to start reducing the amount of rock that we mine in order to better preserve our environment for future generations.
So, what now? This is the question that we are left with. How can we reduce the amount of raw materials mined every day in order to produce new phones? How can we eliminate the toxic waste and large holes left on the Earths surface – the aftermath of mining? How can we safely recycle and reuse the metals and metalloids in iPhones and other smartphones in order to cut back on the millions of rocks that we sift through to find Earths precious metals?
While researching about iPhones, I learned a lot more about just how much of the Earth’s natural resources are depleted in order to fulfill the demands voiced by the modern day person. The world of technology is constantly evolving, and we can do our part to help reduce the abuse on Earths crust by not rushing out to buy the latest technologies released by Apple. Sure, the newest apple watch or the lightest laptop might seem visually appealing, but remember that new technology is fleeting – Earths environment is enduring.