The Ann Arbor Ecology Centre in the US and ifixit.com (‘building the free repair manual for everything’) have researched the toxic chemicals in 36 different mobile phones representing 10 manufacturers. The Motorola Citrus ranked the least toxic, followed by the iPhone 4S and the LG Remarq, while the most toxic phone tested was the iPhone 2G. The new iPhone 5 ranked 5th, ahead of its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III, in 9th place.
The mobile phones were disassembled for the test and in total 1,106 samples were analysed for 35 different chemicals and elements. Full details of the results are at http://www.HealthyStuff.org and www.ifixit.com. (These phones were tested in the US, so I’m not sure whether all models are available elsewhere, or whether manufacture will be different anywhere else).
The bad news is that either lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury or cadmium, or a combination of these hazardous chemicals, were found in every phone. These are chemicals that can pollute throughout a product’s life cycle, from mineral extraction to processing, manufacture and disposal.
“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical hazards,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Centre and founder of HealthyStuff.org. “These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China. We need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives for the design of greener consumer electronics.”
Review: The results make depressing reading – we can’t go on using toxic chemicals in this way.
But the results also highlight the various aspects to sustainability in electronic devices. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the 73% higher carbon footprint of the iPhone 5. At the time I said ‘In fact Apple seems to take a cavalier attitude to environmental issues at the best of times’. Well the product’s standing in the phone ratings, shown above, does Apple some credit, although not much, given that all the phones are basically toxic. At least the IPhone 5 is a great improvement on the iPhone 2G.
I haven’t come across ifixit.com before, a web site dedicated to keeping electronic devices working longer. It has free online repair manuals and sells parts, all with the aim of keeping stuff out of landfill, so minimising toxic waste (and embedded carbon). Good luck to them.