With technology progressing at such a massive rate, it can sometimes be easy to forget about looking after the world that we live in. As Old Father Time ticks on and on, Mother Earth gets mined for her natural resources by businesses looking to beat their competition with better profit margins and thus looking for cheaper ways in which to manufacture new consumer goods. The resulting fallout from all of this new technology becoming a ubiquitous element of contemporary society is that there is more and more waste as well as unethical methods of sourcing the raw materials needed to make such technology. Products become more disposable and in consumers’ desire to jump on the latest trend, buy the latest gadget and update their collection of e-products, the concept of recycling such ostensibly valuable items can get lost amid the hubbub of excitement and corporate avarice.
In their recent magazine feature ‘Gadgetry without the guilt’ New Scientist discuss the idea of a fair-trade smartphone (a Fairphone) that uses ethically sourced components. After the 2010 US financial reform bill, also known as the Dodd-Frank act was passed, requiring companies to carry out due diligence to ensure that there are not sourced from conflict areas, production of tantalum from conflict areas has fallen by 75%. Concurrently, because US electronic companies are sourcing their raw materials elsewhere, the price of these minerals has dropped by over 65%, making them less appealing to rebel groups as a source of funding.
This is very encouraging and it’s fantastic that big businesses like Apple, a major leader in auditing the supply chain, are making a concerted effort to source ethically produced materials; but what can we, as smartphone enthusiasts, do to curtail this growing global issue? Well, quite a lot really; iPhoneAppCafe caught up with Martin Nielson, CEO of E-Waste Systems and put the iWorld to rights.
iPAC: Hi Martin, thanks for meeting us; so what can a regular smartphone user do to ensure that they are ‘doing their bit’ for the environment?
Martin Nielson: Well, the easiest and simplest thing to do is to make sure that any gadgetry is properly recycled; in fact, in the UK a law has been passed that any retailer has to provide appropriate recycling facilities for electronic goods; this even works for online purchases. This isn’t mandatory across the US yet, but this should not stop both consumers and retailers ensuring that they properly recycle their gadgets. You should also check that the company that manufactures the phone uses ethical methods of production.
iPAC: A bit like checking where diamonds are mined to ensure that they are not ‘blood diamonds’, I suppose. So if you get yourself a new upgrade, you should return your old phone to the retailer?
MN: Yes, absolutely.
iPAC: A lot of retailers actually offer incentives for customers to return their phones; so do you think that the responsibilities lies with the businesses or the consumers?
MN: Both individuals and corporations have a social responsibility to recycle their electronic goods; from an individual perspective, the damage that e-waste does to the Earth is absolutely devastating and it is not something that will only be damaging down the line; we are already seeing what the negative effects of landfills and e-waste are doing to the world and unless something is done to reverse it.
iPAC: And how about the corporations? Can businesses function as efficiently if they implement proper gadget recycling?
MN: Absolutely. It can actually be beneficial for companies to use businesses like ours to help them function in a more eco-friendly manner as they have a vested interest to protect their own brand; if a business use electronics and they don’t dispose of them eco-efficiently it can come back to haunt them. The funny thing is, this change can be done without having to apologise in a business sense in that it is not a dramatic cost if done intelligently. Companies can turn old gadgets into raw materials, get a value from them and turn them into profit.
There’s no lack of publication on the degrading effect that the poor disposal of electronic goods is having on the environment, people’s health as well as the land; what’s also interesting is the massive economic effect can have on the world. Companies mine for raw materials, develop them from oils, essentially spending more and more money defacing the planet as well as increasing energy consumption, instead of focusing on what we really should be doing and that is reversing this negative effect and preventing any unnecessary future e-waste.
iPAC: Thank you very much your time Martin, keep fighting the good fight!
There we have it folks; if you want to do your bit for the environment then take the socially responsible route and dig out any of your old gadgets, smartphones or personal technology that you have no use for and make sure that they are properly and effectively recycled. Remember, it’s your world too!