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The Phone Essay (Or an Object Lesson Article)

To start things off, allow me to explain the lifecycle of a cell phone. The circuit board I took from my 2007 LG VX-8350 flip phone was made in China. My phone’s life started at the factory, where most phones are made of about 40 percent metal, 40 percent plastic, and 20 percent ceramics and trace materials. As for the materials themselves, first is the circuit board, which is the phone’s brain or control panel. The circuit board materials come from mined minerals. These minerals are Gold, Copper, Lead, Nickel, Zinc, Beryllium, Tantalum, Coltan, and other raw minerals. Along with the minerals, crude oil was required to complete the circuit board. Most of these elements are considered persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances, or PBTs, which are cancer-causing chemicals that do not decompose quickly, if ever, in the environment.

Another part of the phone is the phone’s Liquid Crystal Display (or LCD) screen. This is a low-powered flat-screen display on the face of the phone which shows the information on the net. The Contrast between the opaque and transparent areas forms visible characters. Various liquid crystalline substances and natural but dangerous chemicals like Mercury are also made in China. And finally, an essential part of cell phones, the rechargeable battery, is made from Lithium Ion. The cell in my phone’s Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery was made in Korea, but it was manufactured in China. Other types of batteries are nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH), nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd), or lead acid. The Li-Ion battery uses lithium metallic oxide and carbon-based materials mined from the Earth.

Now that I have described the phone I used for my research, I can talk about the phone’s living history and its afterlife. Back when the phone was working, and I was old enough to use it, I mostly talked and texted on it. However, when I texted, producing whatever I wanted to say was challenging because it was not a smartphone. Like many old-school cell phones, I had to press number keys and go through a series of letters to get to the one I wanted. Then multiply that by all the notes it took to spell out the message. Although the flip phone did its primary job of making calls quickly enough, it was pretty clunky regarding other things like texting or hearing voicemails. Although there were games on the LG phone, I never tried them since they couldn’t come close to competing with my Leapster gaming console back then.

Finally, there’s the afterlife. When my family switched to iPhones (insert theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey here!), I never used the old flip phone again. So far, my family has just put our old devices in various drawers around the house. This project has reminded us all about them; now, we’ll find an excellent way to donate or recycle them. However, most old phones end up as toxic waste in landfills. In 2014, the EPA reported that Americans throw out about 416,000 cell phones daily, which equals more than 151 million phones annually! However, the benefits of recycling old cell phones are mind-blowing! For every million recycled phones, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium get recovered. If that’s not incentive enough, one ton of circuit boards contains about 40 to 800 times more gold and 30 to 40 times more copper than can be mined in one metric ton of ore. Many stores accept old cell phones for recycling, including Staples, Verizon, Best Buy, AT&T, and many more.

With that being said, this leads up to now. As I’m doing this research, the most exciting thing I have discovered while disassembling my phone is that the cell to make the battery came from Korea, but the battery’s assembly was done in China. Another exciting thing I discovered is that the phone’s pink outer shell was attached to the more rigid plastic shell. But what amazed me most was what I learned about the severe need to recycle old cell phones to help Earth as a planet while helping the economy at the same time. As for the challenges I experienced, the highly tiny screws were difficult to remove at first. Another challenge was figuring out the timeline between when the Cell phone was made, and Verizon and LG no longer supported that model.

Here’s my ti<iframe src=”https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1xuY4upIooEeszZ_lCmeNx24eSFWe0rHe9ZdqH2xqVNk&#038;font=Default&#038;lang=en&#038;initial_zoom=2&#038;height=100%” width=”100%” frameborder=”0″></iframe>meline

Sources:

20 Staggering E-Waste Facts in 2021

https://earth911.com/eco-tech/20-e-waste-facts/

Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic Substances

http://www.cec.org/files/documents/publications/992-north-american-mosaic-overview-key-environmental-issues-en.pdf

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