Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd. In reality, every day should be “Earth Day”, but this specific day was picked to bring awareness to the globe that we have to take care of our planet. There are obvious things you can do to help the planet: walk more, carpool, use reusable grocery bags, switch to energy efficient appliances and lights, and fix leaky faucets. We’re pretty good at those things especially when they help us save money. Reusable grocery bags are more prominent than ever in California due to a statewide tax on disposable bags.
There is one less obvious thing you can do to truly help the planet – recycle your unused cellphones and smartphones.
Smartphones are essential to almost every one of our daily lives. We use them to keep track of our schedule, keep in touch with loved ones, take pictures of our favorite events, listen to music, watch videos, and now even monitor heart rate, exercise activity, and more. They’re incredible and they’re more than just a slab of metal and glass. The average smartphone contains up to 62 different types of metal. As a chemist, I can’t even name all of the metals used in phones – that speaks to the complexities of making a smartphone. Each one of these metals comes from unique places around the globe where they have to be mined and refined before they can be used in a phone.
Metals are rare. Think about gold. It’s currently priced at over $1300 per ounce, and it takes one ton of ore to refine 1g of gold. All of that work to refine gold from ore requires a vast amount of effort and as a result, the cost reflects that effort. If you do the math, it takes 28 tons of ore to make one ounce of pure gold. The largest mammal on earth, the blue whale, weighs 150 tons on average (male). It would take the weight of one blue whale in ore to make just 5.35 ounces of gold. That’s a lot of ore to mine and refine. That process takes a massive toll on our planet. Continue to do the math, and the amount of effort to refine all of those metals used in your smartphone, and that adds up to an extensive amount of damage being done to our planet.
If we recycled just 35 smartphones, we could recover 1g of gold without having to refine all of that ore. At the same time experts recycle and reuse the gold, they are also separating the other 62 rare metals used in your old junk. One metal, in particular, coltan, is mostly found in certain parts of Africa. When you think of Africa you think of the rainforests and animals that live within. The gorilla is a prime example of a species in decline due to the mining of coltan which is used to make our smartphones. Coltan is just one example of the 62 metals that make up your phone. Recycling your old and unused phone is more important than ever and is one of the best things you can do for our environment and Earth Day.
Places like Best Buy will do their part to take back smartphones, chargers, and cables free of charge in store. Other places like smartphonerecycling.com and buybackworld.com will buy back your old phones even if they are broken and will not work. Do the environment a favor and clear out your old drawers and recycle those old smartphones.