The main materials that manufacturers use to make smartphones are metals, glass, and plastic. The outer covering is hardened plastic such as polycarbonate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and is full of flame-retardant chemical (Ongondo and Williams, 2011). It can withstand temperature fluctuations. Thus, the feature makes it resistant to combustion (incineration) as the primary method of disposal. On the other hand, smartphone screens are liquid crystal display technology (LCD) that is glass crystals with liquid crystals. Smartphone batteries are lithium ion, nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and nickel-hydride (Ni-MH) (Ongondo and Williams, 2011). Other elements that the batteries contain are cobalt, zinc, lithium, and copper, antimony, tantalum, palladium, gold, silver, beryllium, mercury, lead, and arsenic (Ongondo and Williams, 2011). All these elements are potentially dangerous to the environment.
Figure 4.2 in the textbook provides that the four ways of disposing of waste are reuse, re-engineering, landfills, and recycling. Shimaoka (2016) also states that the four are primary means of disposing of waste. In “primary sorting” which is the first process of recycling, the products are noncombustible and combustible. The flammable products undergo combustion (incineration), which produces. Figure 4.1 shows that incineration is the last process of a combustible material at the end of first life. Research findings by Ongondo and Williams (2011) and Shimaoka (2016) indicate that smartphones contain elements such as mercury, lead, and arsenic, among others that are disastrous to the environment if they undergo combustion. The “primary sorting” stage of recycling should have the capability of ensuring that combustible materials with products that are toxic to the environment do not undergo the incineration process and the ones with non-toxic materials undergo the process.
Indeed, recycling is a possibility in the disposal of a broken smartphone. However, the community does not have recycling infrastructure. Therefore, the infrastructure that the community needs is a recycling infrastructure to ensure the best end of life option for the smartphone products, which is reuse. According to Ongondo and Williams (2016), the world disposes of 70% of broken smartphones and discarded ones in landfills. As a result, they contaminate groundwater, and soil, and contribute to air pollution. The lead is a highly toxic element that has adverse impacts on health. Furthermore, the other items such as tantalum, coltan, beryllium, gold, zinc, and copper, among the other need significant resources to manufacture and mine. Thus, recycling is the best option for disposal of the smartphones. In this school of thought, Shimaoka (2016) states that besides reuse, there are other advantages that this process will have to the society. Among them are a reduction of the resources for manufacturing and mining the raw materials, reduction of toxic waste, and conservation of natural resources.
Figure 4.2 shows that secondary sorting results in different material families, grades, and classes, which are recyclable accordingly. Shimaoka (2016) argues that for the process to be entirely successful, there are four features that the recycling infrastructure should have. They are sensors (detect polymers mixed with plastic materials), ejectors (handle high rates of input), computing systems (provide algorithms to sort and identify different materials), and user interfaces (provide diagnostic tools and machine interfaces). When the infrastructure has the features, then the products produced after recycling will be beneficial for reuse. The features of the secondary sorting equipment are also imperative because as time elapses, the manufacturing on the smartphones also change. The market thereof is drastically evolving, and new features with new raw materials are coming up. Nonetheless, the toxicity of the raw materials remains the same. Combustion is only relevant for specific elements while re-engineering is not possible for the broken smartphones because of their design. Recycling remains the best option for disposing of them. Stakeholders in the community must ensure that there is a recycling plant or infrastructure for this process.
- Ongondo, F. O., & Williams, I. D. (2011). Are WEEE in Control? Rethinking Strategies for Managing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Integrated Waste Management – Volume II, 5(6), 57-72. doi:10.5772/20506
- Shimaoka, T. (2016). Recyclable Resources and Proper Waste Disposal. Basic Studies in Environmental Knowledge, Technology, Evaluation, and Strategy, 4(9), 123-135. doi:10.1007/978-4-431-55819-4_9.