The production of your iPhone is split between several companies you've never heard of. The screens, for instance, are made by a company called Fangtai Huawei Electronic Technology, based in Guizhou, China. There, they pay workers a pittance to clean touchscreens with a concoction informally known as "banana oil" -- a very cutesy name for a substance that put 30 workers in the hospital.
Unbeknownst to the workforce, their banana fun time fluid was laced with n-hexane, a cleaning agent derived from crude oil so toxic that being near it can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, and irreversible damage to the central nervous system. Anyone working with this solvent was meant to be working in a well-ventilated area and wearing an industrial-strength mask, but shockingly, high safety standards do not a cheap iPhone make. So the workers were given paper masks for breathing, and the only ventilation they got was from the foreman yelling at them for trying to crack a window.
Surely, because we overpay hundreds of dollars per iPhone each year, that left the company with plenty of profits to pay workers compensation, right? Unfortunately, they prefer to spend their winnings "convincing" health officials that there is no link between the many sick workers and the factory conditions. Fangtai Huawei Electronic Technology will, however, buy a bus ticket for anyone too sick to work so they can fuck off back home to their village. They're nice like that.
Your Phone Is Unrecyclable
Recycling is good. That's something thousands of hours of Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of the crying Native American PSA has taught us. So if, for instance, you were in charge of inventing the latest iteration of a gadget that next to everyone on the planet is guaranteed to own, it'd stand to reason to make that shit recyclable. Yes? Congratulations! You're officially smarter than everyone in the R&D departments of Apple, Samsung, Google, and every other tech giant that ever made a smartphone.
Now, to be fair, your smartphone isn't unrecyclable because those guys don't care about the environment; it's because we don't want recyclable smartphones. Retrieving the many rare metals that go into a smartphone is a complex matter, so it has always been a choice between focusing on increased recyclability or increased functionality, and we have always gone for the one that lets us watch the whole of The Defenders on the can in one go.
It's a market problem that was thrown into smart relief most recently when Samsung accidentally built and then recalled 4.3 million potential smart bombs. Unable to be repaired, refurbished, or resold to consumers who don't want to browse Twitter dressed like they're in The Hurt Locker, they needed to find a way of disposing of them that isn't setting them on fire, i.e. something environmentally conscious. Too bad we haven't figured that one out yet.
via CNN Money
"We're trying to to work the 'not setting our users on fire' part ..."
There are 50 rare elements in each phone, from indium (for the touchscreen) to neodymium (for the speakers) to cobalt (for batteries). Of those 50, it's only currently possible to recycle roughly a dozen of them. That's not just a kick in the pants for Samsung's profit margin, but also a slap in the face for all the people who had to suffer so that those phones could get made. Sure, they were only ever destined to be used for dumb games or sexting, but it's better than a landfill, y'know?
And it's not like we can make some new smartphone materials if we run out of these. Most of these elements aren't replaceable. Once they're gone, they're gone for good. Even worse, when Yale University looked for viable replacements for the metals and elements that go into smartphones, it discovered that there were no viable replacements that could be switched in once we run out. We have "Meh" replacements and "Are you kidding me?" replacements, but nothing that performs as well as the materials that we're currently using. It's a burgeoning crisis that'll force us into reconsidering how we consume electronics -- or even, at the grander level, the self-destructive nature of consumerism. A discussion that we're positive will happen any day now.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook. He also has a newsletter about depressing history, if you're into that sort of thing.
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