Smartphones, ressource use and human rights
Folkwang University of Arts, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide reached over 7.7 billion in 2017 In other words, we had as many mobile phone subscriptions worldwide as people on the planet. And this number only accounts for all actively used sim-cards, excluding old and unused mobile phones, that are stored in many drawers and cupboards all around the world. In Germany, for example, this number is estimated to account for more than 100 million mobile phones.
A mobile phone is made of more than 60 different substances, most of them extracted and produced in different countries with sometimes poor working conditions, severe environmental effects and long transport distances. Thus, the dynamic development of the mobile phone industry is closely linked to a high energy and resource use. The ecological rucksack of a mobile phone weights about 75kg (material use along the whole life cycle) – among of them about 28% are metals, including metals relevant for new technologies in the energy and mobility sector leading to utilization competition between these sectors.
Some of these metals can be recycled at a very high level. However, the average recycling rate of old mobile phones is very low; it reaches less than 10% worldwide. Therefore, the problem of return and use of old mobile phones is relevant for circular economy worldwide.
Recycling, however, is only part of the solution. A sustainable and deliberate consumption behavior (buying, using) is highly important as well. Therefore, in this workshop, we want to look at alternative models of mobile phones, e.g. Fairphones, and the role of design for a sustainable production and consumption of mobile phones. Overall, the questions occur: How can we develop more sustainable production and consumption patterns concerning mobile phones by using the concept of the “ecological rucksack”? What does a more sustainable value chain of a mobile phone look like, including social aspects and human rights? And can we include environmental and social aspects in the decision process of buying a new mobile phone?
Workshop conducted by:
Anke Bernotat, Christa Liedtke, Jola Welfens