Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Von'Nea. Von'Nea Wonders, “do mobile phones affect the ecosystem, including human beings?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Von'Nea!
Have you ever used a mobile phone? They can be so useful! Mobile phones help people stay in touch with friends and family. Many mobile phones also provide entertainment. They're full of games and other apps to keep people occupied. If you were to ask most mobile phone users, they'd say their mobile phone definitely makes life easier!
However, most people don't know about the impact mobile phones have on our ecosystem. Have you ever looked at the inside of a mobile phone? If you have, you know they're made of many types of metals. Most phones contain iron, aluminum, copper, gold, and tin. Those metals come from mines in Brazil, Peru, and China. The process of mining for these metals is one major way mobile phones affect the ecosystem.
When people mine for metals, it creates waste. We call mining waste "mine tailings." Mine tailings look like mud, but the substance is actually quite toxic. Mining companies try to store mine tailings safely, but accidents happen. Mine tailings spills are a huge threat to ecosystems. In 2015, a mine tailing spill in Brazil killed 19 people. The waste traveled from the spill site all the way to the Atlantic Ocean 400 miles (650km) away. Along the way, it hurt both aquatic and plant life.
Waste spills aren't the only concern with mining for metals. In China, metals called "rare earths" are mined to go into mobile phones. Mining for these metals requires the use of highly toxic acids. How do Chinese companies dispose of these acids and other mine tailings? They started using the World's Technology Waste Lake in 1958. This isn't a lake you'd want to swim in! It's full of waste from rare earths mining. Mining companies funnel their acids and waste to the lake through long pipes.
The waste is bad enough, but mining for our phones also adds to deforestation. In Peru, companies cut down a large number of trees for mining every year. Since 2011, this has helped destroy 1.8 million hectares of trees in Peru. This is a major concern since a lack of trees could lead to many problems for life on Earth.
Mining for phone production also puts more carbon into the air. This adds to climate change, another major concern for our ecosystem. Have you ever seen a smartphone? Phones with large screens add even more carbon to the air than smaller phones do. That means smartphones are especially damaging!
All of that damage is done just to make new phones! However, mobile phones affect the ecosystem after they're made, too. While most mobile phones are able to last up to five years, many people replace their phones after just two years. Worse, they send their old phones straight to a landfill. If we continue with this practice, phones will account for over 12 million tons of landfill waste in 2020.
The impact of mobile phones on our ecosystem is expected to grow. An estimated five billion people will use mobile phones in 2020. That's 66% of the world population! To stop to the impact of phones on the ecosystem, we need to act now.
So, what can we do? First, people who have mobile phones should take care of them. If something on a phone breaks, the owner should repair it instead of buying a new one. This will make them last longer and cut down on the need to make new phones.
When it's time to get a new phone, users should recycle their old phones instead of throwing them away. Currently, only 1% of mobile phones are recycled. That's a lot of wasted metal sitting in landfills!
Do you know someone who has a mobile phone? How can you talk to them about mine tailings and carbon? What other ways can we stop phones from hurting our ecosystem? Sharing your ideas is another way you can help fix the problem!