The minerals used to build the technology used in everyday life, are conflict minerals and are associated with many issues particularly in the eastern part of Congo. The main minerals used in technology such as cell phones include tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. These are called conflict minerals because they are mined in places like the eastern area of Congo, and are smuggled into other countries by armed groups to make the technology that you use today. Tin is used as a soldering agent for circuits boards, tungsten is used to make cell phones vibrate, tantalum is used to store electricity and finally, gold is used to coat the wires inside of cell phones and other technology. Gold is used because of its resistance to corrosion, electrical conductivity, ductility and lack of toxicity. Tin is used to coat lead, zinc, and steel because it prevents corrosion. Tantalum is used as an electrical capacitor because of its thin dielectric layer which can withstand high electrical capacitance. Finally, tungsten is used to make phones vibrate because it reduces exposure to electromagnetic radiation when radio frequencies are used to receive and make calls. All of these materials are obviously crucial for making the iPhones used today. However, the safety issues that are associated with the mining process of all these materials endanger the lives of the people mining them greatly.
There are many safety issues that are linked to the mining process of the elements listed above. These issues are affecting the lives of all the people working in the mines, which are often young children trying to earn enough to survive. The average life expectancy of a miner in Congo is about 40 years. This is partly because of the dangerous and life-threatening silica dust in the mines. In an LA Times article silica dust is described as “suffocating”. There are many pieces of evidence that prove that this is an issue, such as “…the air in the tunnels is thick with suffocating silica dust.”, “…children as young as 6 years old have worked in its tunnels.”, and “…the average lifespan of a Cerro Rico miner is 40 years.”. All of these quotations prove that the miners working in these mines are endangering their lives only to earn only a little bit of money. This is just one of many mining-related safety issues that affect all who work in these dangerous environments and conditions. And our consumption of technology that uses these conflict minerals doesn’t help the issue because the more we buy and use technology that includes these minerals, the higher the demand for the minerals, which forces the miners to work harder and produce more minerals.
Safety issues such as this one can seem too big for students in YIS to do anything about it. However, there are little things that we can do that can help the situation improve even a little bit. YIS could begin promoting and encouraging students and teachers to recycle their technology when they are not being used anymore. We could do this by putting up posters that explain the importance of the situation and what we can do to help. Recycling the materials inside of the technology would help the situation because the more recycled minerals there are to use, the number of conflict minerals that technology companies are decreased. This would connect to the issue of mines being unsafe for the people who work in them because if more people recycled their phones, they wouldn’t have to work as much and put their lives in danger. Larry West from ThoughtCo says that “For every one million cell phones recycled, we can recover 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35,274 pounds of copper; cell phones also contain tin, zinc, and platinum.” This goes to show how much this solution could help the problem. If the YIS community decides to do this, it will be a great step towards our technology being conflict free.
- “Dynamic Periodic Table.” Dynamic Periodic Table, www.ptable.com/.
- ENOUGHproject. “Conflict Minerals 101.” YouTube, ENOUGHproject, 18 Nov. 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF-sJgcoY20.
- Merchant, Brian. “Were the Raw Materials in Your IPhone Mined by Children in Inhumane Conditions?” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 23 July 2017, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-merchant-iphone-supplychain-20170723-story.html.
- “The Uses of Tungsten Alloy in IPhone.” The Uses of Tungsten Alloy in IPhone-Tungsten Alloy, www.tungsten-alloy.com/tungsten-alloy-iphone.html.
- West, Larry. “Why Recycle Cell Phones?” ThoughtCo, 23 Sept. 2016, www.thoughtco.com/why-recycle-cell-phones-1204065.