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  • The number of smart phone users globally

  • is set to reach 2.5 billion by 2019.

  • Around a third of the world's population will own one.

  • Smartphones touch every element of our lives.

  • But did you know that they also connect nearly every

  • element on the planet

  • In fact, of the 118 elements on the periodic table,

  • 75 can be found inside a smartphone.

  • These raw materials are extracted from the ground

  • and shipped to refineries and factories

  • in a truly global supply chain.

  • Silicon.

  • One of the most common elements in the earth's crust,

  • is used to make the billions of transistors in the chips

  • that power your phone.

  • Gold is used for electrical wiring.

  • About 0.03 grams of it in each iPhone.

  • Indium, another metal, is used to make touch screens.

  • But when it comes to batteries,

  • lithium is one of the key components,

  • and this element is only mined in a handful of countries.

  • Until recently, Chile used to produce the most lithium.

  • But now Australia has the biggest market share.

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo,

  • a dangerously unstable country

  • with a poor human rights record,

  • produces more than half the world's cobalt,

  • another crucial element in smartphone batteries.

  • Smartphone makers are under pressure to ensure their cobalt

  • is responsibly sourced.

  • About 80% of the cobalt used in batteries

  • is refined in China.

  • Many so-called rare-earth elements

  • are also used in smartphones,

  • in the screen, the speaker,

  • and the motor that makes your phone vibrate.

  • About 85% of rare-earth elements are produced in China.

  • Despite their name, rare-earth elements

  • are not particularly rare,

  • but they are hard to extract

  • without producing toxic and radioactive byproducts.

  • Many of the elements used in smartphones

  • are finite resources,

  • and have no functional substitutes.

  • Rather than digging in the ground for the elements needed

  • for new handsets,

  • it makes sense to extract them from old phones.

  • But only about 10% of handsets are recycled now.

  • So recycle your phone if you get a new one this year.

  • Why? It is, you might say, elementary.

The number of smart phone users globally

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B1 US rare earth cobalt element smartphones rare smartphone

Where does your phone come from? | The Economist

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    Priscilla posted on 2018/10/09
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