Dear far left environmentalist, do you have any idea what goes into your smartphone? (Not that you still have one, or use one!)
"Building up a definitive list of every material inside your smartphone is difficult due to tightly protected trade secrets and variations between makes, models and manufacturers, but it's possible to build up a general picture.
Overall, a smartphone handset consists of around 40% metals (predominantly copper, gold, platinum, silver and tungsten), 40% plastics and 20% ceramics and trace materials.
According to the Minerals Education Coalition, a baby born in the US today will use up 539 lbs. of zinc, 903 lbs. of lead and 985 lbs. of copper during his or her lifetime, not just in phones but in other gadgets and appliances too. In terms of environmental drain from every smartphone that's made, you can add the oil used to produce plastics, the sand used to produce glass, and so on.
Of the 83 stable and non-radioactive elements in the periodic table, at least 70 can be found in smartphones. According to the best available figures, a total of 62 different types of metals go into the average mobile handset, with what are known as the rare Earth metals playing a particularly important role. Of the 17 rare Earth metals, 16 are included in phones.
Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium, for example, are three of the rare Earth metals: they give your phone the power to vibrate, so smartphones could be made without them – but you'd have to rely on your ringtone. Terbium and dysprosium are also used in tiny quantities in touchscreens to produce the colors of a phone display.
In this case, "rare" doesn't necessarily mean in short supply, but they aren't plentiful either – they're spread out in small reserves in many different places on the planet, and extracting them can be tricky and time-consuming. And once they've been extracted, that's it: we only have a finite amount of them, and there are no adequate replacements.