Sustainability and technology: A phone or the environment?

The people living on the Earth today, in general, have a technology addiction of widely varying degrees. All those that can afford one will have a phone, a laptop or desktop and in many cases more. The software and hardware manufacturers are more than happy to feed this addiction, churning out a few to (a classic example of Samsung)[1] many devices per year to demonstrate class, increase productivity and in general to gain utility. However, the hardware inside our devices, the servers powering our online services and applications and the power stations bringing life to our tech are having a negative effect on our environment. Is our technology sustainable?

Phone manufacturers are a particularly bad example and not entirely due to their actions. In the West, people will often buy new phones every two year or more often. These phones will seldom be manufactured in the country of use (the Motorola Moto X 2013 was a rare example which was manufactured in the US company’s home country, but was closed once it was succeeded)[2][3] and therefore (as with almost all technology) shipping is a frequent affair. Rare earth elements are frequently used in smart devices as features and components need their respective chemistry in order to produce their desired function. However, 16 of the 17 are used in phones and it is questionable whether they are retrieved in recycling and whether manufacturers are making sure to use sustainable sources.[4] Original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs for short, have little economic incentive to be more sustainable other than to not deplete supply of resources which would increase prices in the future.

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