BBC Science & Environment Report:
Millions of old gadgets stockpiled in peoples homes.
A study by the Royal Society of Chemistry has estimated that as many as 40 million unused gadgets are languishing in UK homes. How many do you have in your home? Each device contains multiple valuable and increasingly endangered elements. Read on for more information and what to do about recycling.
Smartphones contain around 30 different elements, some of which the Earth is running out of. The growing, unseen shortage of so-called "rare earth elements" was the impetus for the survey of just how much unused technology we are all stockpiling.
The organisation carried out an online survey – completed by more than 2,000 people – which revealed that half of UK households had at least one unused electronic device and 45% of homes had between two and five. Most people admitted they had no plans to recycle their collection.
What elements could we run out of?
The metal indium, is used in a unique compound called indium tin oxide, which is vital for touch screens, because it conducts electricity and is transparent, also used in solar panels. There's not a lot of it in the Earth and a kilo of ore will produce just a few milligrams of indium.
Most of us will not have heard of tantalum, but it's a highly corrosion-resistant metal that is perfect for small electronic devices like our phones, perfect for hearing aids and pace-makers.
Scientists estimate that indium and tantalum mines, among others, could run out within a century. Meanwhile, our demand for new technology continues to increase.
Other Elements in smart phones that could run out within the next 100 years:
So what should I do with my old tech?
At electrical waste reprocessing plants, devices – even wires- can be broken down into their component parts for recycling
Many people who hoard old tech are concerned about protecting their personal data, but a "factory reset" should protect that – and council tips and responsible retailers keep electronics secure before they are recycled.
According to the Electrical Waste Recycling Group, about 500,000 tonnes of electronic waste is recycled in the UK every year. But that is only a fraction of the "E-waste" that is piling up in landfill and in people's homes.
To get more information see www.bc.co.uk/science-environment-49409055
Photograph from Science Photo Library: Elemental Table
2019 is the international year of the periodic table!