Let’s be honest, we are a community virtually dependent on technology. Without our iPhones, tablets or GPS systems we are, sometimes literally, lost. It’s okay to admit, and it’s highly likely we are going to continue to become ever more dependent on technology as it evolves and makes our lives easier. Considering that, it's important that we start to use this technology responsibly, and educate ourselves about how this technology is made and where it comes from. Did you know, for instance, that Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are a critical component to most of our tech products? Smartphones, tablets, laptops as well as medical and military products all contain Rare Earth Elements in many ways. Even your environmentally conscious hybrid car contains magnets made from REEs to power up. While it is true that REEs are not exactly rare, there are many negative aspects to the overuse of these materials the ever-evolving technology markets.
As consumers, we have a ridiculous upgrade mentality. Granted, technology manufacturers are releasing the “latest and greatest” devices and products at un unreasonable rate. For instance, iPhone 5s had barely been around for a year before Apple released the iPhone 6. The iPhone uses at least 4 different kinds of REEs, including multiple to polish the sapphire screen or used to make the lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The process of extracting rare earth metals produces tons of toxic waste, in addition to using extremely energy-intensive processes. The waste materials involved in the extraction process, which include mercury, barium, lead, chromium and cadmium, are very hurtful to the environment. Getting rid of these waste materials is difficult and costly, while recycling REEs remains challenging as well.
The easiest way for us to ensure we are doing our part to protect the environment and not creating extraordinary amounts of waste is make sure we are getting the most out of the technology and devices that we have. We can have healthy environment while maintaining the pace of technological innovation, but we as consumers to change the way we think about our tech products. We have to break the upgrade habit and keep our devices for longer. We should consider repairing our devices if needed, not replacing them annually. Additionally, eventually when our products do come to the end of its lifecycle, it must be disposed of both safely and ethically, limiting the amount of e-waste.