The Impact of Gadgets on People and the Planet
“When it comes to gadgets, even environmental zealots tend to forget that everything we buy new comes from raw materials and therefore leaves a hole in the planet. While recycled items are a better option, they require energy to be produced and unless the company in question has a thorough green policy, that energy has probably come from oil or gas, the extraction of which has also left a hole in the planet.”
How much do you know about the materials that are needed to fuel our love-affair of gadgets? The electronics industry is a rapidly growing market worldwide, and upgrading to new styles and models is the coolest thing you can do. Most people do not consider the impacts of their techno-purchases on the environment or the people who make them, but the damage they cause is significant and, for some people, deadly.
The Human Impact
Bangka Island lies east of Indonesia and is home to the world’s tin mining industry. For centuries the island has been one of the world’s principal tin-producing centres. On-shore miners dig and search underground tunnels for veins of cassiterite, the principal dark mineral of tin ore, which is turned into solder and used by the electronics industry to bind components in gadgets. Solder is used in smartphones, flat-screen televisions, and tablet computers such as the iPad, which are popular in countries like the US and UK. In fact, U.K.-based industry trade group Henkel states that the solder in an iPad or a competing tablet can be as much as 3 grams, which means that 5 iPads use as much tin solder as an average single car.
Thousands of Indonesians are required to work on Bangka Island to extract the tin required to make solder, and it is hard work, undertaken without machines and aided only by hoes and pickaxes. Tin is highly profitable for big business but for the local people who have to dig it up, it come with a higher cost. Human lives are lost due to problems associated with mining such as mudslides and mines collapsing, and statistics show that deaths of Bangka miners are increasing yearly as demand for tin grows alongside our love of cool new gadgets. Miners are often buried alive and it takes large teams and a huge amount of effort to recover their bodies from the rubble, but no one is compensated by the companies that profit from the mining.