where did my cell phone come from?

In the Era of over-consumption we work more to have more money and to buy more stuff but at the same time we have less free time, so we neglect our families, hobbies, passions, not even to mention spending not enough time on our own development and education. In our free time we watch TV, surf on the internet and.. shop, more and more, which – according to the commercials we see – should make us happier, but in the end, we don’t have time, money or happiness after all. Media is all around us, feeding us with commercials, entertainment, news and opinions that in a way blind-fold us, we lose the sense of reality and our opinions are often influenced by what we have seen or heard. And the ubiquity of media, in a sense, doesn’t allow us not to be exposed to all that.

With the development of Internet, we acquired the need to create and share, more than ever before. And also, the need for accessibility to whatever piece of information we can think of. So these human desires forced “technology” to follow and to make it easy, fun, fast and most of all – portable. We now have many types of computer-like devices like smart phones, iPads or personal digital assistants, that allow as to access the information we need at any time and at any media platform.

Unfortunately, media devices are not produced to last very long. Firstly, so producers make more “stuff” to sell and make money, so we get an updated, new model of a phone, computer etc. But most of all, because technology is going forward so rapidly, things are getting ‘out of fashion’ very quickly and often not compatible with new applications or software.

Mobile phones are these days the extensions of ourselves, they are multifunctional devices that make our lives easier and we can’t imagine functioning without them. No one would have thought that in about 20 years, mobile phones could have made the leap from just being the alternative to landlines, to becoming a computer, GPS, radio and our lifeline to the Internet, and still be able to fit in our pocket. But numbers are not as optimistic. According to Strategy Analytics, In 2011, the world produced 1.6 billion mobile phones. The International Telecommunication Union claims that at end of 2011, in a 7-billion people world there were 6 billion active mobile numbers! Number of mobile phones in the world increased by 3000 per minute. At the same time, the world’s population grows .. about 145 people. This simple statistic just confirms what demographers say – it’s not a problem of the world population, but of insane consumption.

A wide variety of plastics and metals are used in the production of mobile phones and their accessories such as chargers and batteries. For the production of plastic components, such as: covers, keypads, displays, most commonly used materials are: polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, polymethyl methacrylate (commonly known as plexiglass). In the manufacture of mobile electronics they use metals such as tantalum, tin, copper, cobalt, iron derivatives, nickel, silver, gold, and generally considered to be hazardous to human health: lead, cadmium, mercury – but we can find only traces of them, and it’s not dangerous on daily basis usage of the device.


There is a lot of chemicals created during the process of production, as well as conservatives and synthetic materials, which  end up being dumped in the nature after all. About 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated worldwide every year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators. That’s only e-waste – what about other rubbish that is produced worldwide? Estimated 1 billion tons each year? What happen to it? It all goes to dumpsters, waters, ground, air. For example to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch called Vortex, which is an ocean dump the size of Texas, or to Guiyu – town in China, which is known to be the biggest electronic waste dump of the world (taking in over 1.5 million tons e-waste a year). Most people are ignorant about recycling and taking care of our planet, that is running out of resources. We chop out trees, use and pollute too much of clean water and kill animals. But what’s really important but not spoken of too much is using people (especially kids) at the stage of production or raw material extraction in a very inhumane way. Companies are trying to minimize and externalize the cost of production by moving the whole process to the third world countries, where kids work in factories and mines so we can buy our things cheaper. And it’s not only the workforce they’re using, but also their natural resources. Most of the materials that cell phones (and other electronics) are made of, comes from mines in Congo. They are so-called “conflict minerals” as they’ve been a cause of a civil war in Congo, that – according to the human rights organizations – has been the bloodiest conflict since the World War II. Within 15 years, it took lives of more than 5 million people, and over 300.000 women have been raped. This will not come to an end unless companies won’t stop buying these materials and start having social responsibility for the price people in Congo pay for our new mobile phones.  



Abril 2013
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