Scientist vs Siri - the battle for a better world

Ramesha Perera
Tue 19 Mar

Siri knew the outcome was never going to be good – a team of scientists, a blender and herself. But she never thought it would turn to this. Her inside pulverised to reveal her conflict within, the worlds conflict really...  

No, this isn’t my latest script but what a team of scientists at the University of Plymouth carried out to reveal the quantities of rare or ‘conflict’ elements in iphones to encourage greater recycling rates. 

Discarded laptops, mobile phones and electronic goods are now the world’s fastest growing waste problem, every year, 1.4 billion mobile phones are produced around the world but less than 20 per cent are recycled.  Dr Arjan Dijkstra, lecturer in igneous petrology, said:


“We rely increasingly on our mobile phones but how many of us actually think what is behind the screen? 


After blending the phone, researchers mixed it with sodium peroxide—a powerful oxidizer—at almost 500C. They then conducted a detailed analysis of the solution in acid to determine its precise chemical contents. Results showed the phone contained 33g of iron, 13g of silicon and 7g of chromium, as well as smaller quantities of other substances. Researchers said the phone also featured several “critical elements” known as such for originating from conflict zones in Africa. These elements included 900mg of tungsten and 70mg of cobalt and molybdenum, as well as 160mg of neodymium and 30mg of praseodymium.  

Scientists say this means that to create one phone, workers would need to mine 10-15kg of ore, including 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 1kg of typical copper ore, 750g of typical tungsten ore and 200g of typical nickel ore.  All these materials need to be mined by extracting high value ores, which puts a massive strain on the planet.  

The experiment is part of a collaboration with scientists and Real World Visuals, for the Creative Associates, an initiative overseen by the University's Sustainable Earth Institute and supported by America’s Higher Education Innovation Funding. 

Hopefully, now as consumer behaviour shifts away from being a throwaway society to one more socially responsible and having an interest in where products come from and what they contain, more initiatives like this one will highlight to business the need for change. 

Watch this space.

Souce: Bloomberg. asiaThe Telegraph UK