Scientists at the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) have designed a new periodic table that highlights which natural elements are now considered to be “endangered” as a direct result of the increasing rate of mobile phone production coupled with irresponsible disposal methods. If the mobile industry stays on its current path, we could see elements such as allium, arsenic, yttrium and silver vanish in less than 100 years. They say that the best course of action to keep these natural elements from dying out is to avoid upgrading devices every few years.
A smartphone is made up of some 30 elements – over half of which is causing concern in the years to come because of increasing scarcity. And with nearly 10 million smartphones being discarded or replaced each month in the EU alone, we need to carefully look at our tendencies to waste and improperly recycle such materials. The modified period table sends a powerful message about how much we depend on these elements in our daily lives. It also distinguishes conflict minerals, which fuel violence and wars in the regions where they are extracted. (See below for illustration of periodic table)
David Cole-Hamilton, a professor of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews, pointed out that all of the conflict minerals are used in cell phones. “We have to question whether it’s really necessary to change over mobile phones every year or so. 10 million phones a month are changed in Europe alone. Most of them are sent to the developing world – either for reuse or for recycling – but the recycling is not efficient.”
The team hopes to make their periodic table accessible to everyone, and has already made “great progress in getting it into schools across Europe.” The Royal Society of Chemistry will be sending a copy to every one of its 50,000 members.
“It’s amazing to think that everything that we see around us in the natural world is made up from just 90 building blocks – the 90 naturally occurring elements,” said Professor Cole-Hamilton. “Furthermore, these 90 elements, in different combinations, make up all of the wonders of nature, and all the technology and gadgets we use every day. We need to have a better way of dealing with these resources, or we won’t have them anymore.”