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Cherish your old cell phones and computers!

Feb 1, 2020
smart phone case decorated with a bow

Every choice a Bahá’í makes … leaves a trace, and the moral duty to lead a coherent life demands that one’s economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals, that the purity of one’s aims be matched by the purity of one’s actions to fulfil those aims.

—Universal House of Justice, 1 March 2017

February 2020, Christine Muller

smart phone case decorated with a bow

We spend 700 billion US dollars on consumer electronics in the world every year—that’s 120 dollars per citizen on Earth. The production of electronics requires many natural resources. The average personal computer requires 240 kg (529 lbs) of fossil fuels and 22 kg (48.5l bs) of chemicals to produce. Cell phones are made from as many as 42 different minerals, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, aluminum, beryllium, copper, gold, limestone, silica, silver, and wollastonite. Electronic products usually also contain brominated flame retardants which are toxic, hormone disrupting, and have been found in people all over the world.

The mining of these resources results not only in serious environmental pollution, but, for example in the case of cobalt in terrible human rights violations. Cobalt is a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones and laptops. “An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo, many of them children, use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects.”

So what can we do? Let’s hold on to our cell phones, computers, and other electronics as long as possible to decrease the number of new productions. Your friend may have bought a new cell phone which has many new features and your colleague has a new computer that runs twice as fast as yours. But, when you consider all the social and environmental costs involved in the production of electronics, you may be happy keeping your devices until they are really at the end of their life. What to do with them at that time will be next week’s topic.

How Addiction to Electronics Affects the Environment & Our Lives:
THE COBALT PIPELINE: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops:

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