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In 2007, the use of electronic products emits about 1.4 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - only slightly less than that of the entire airline industry. Manufacturing is far more to blame than usage, accounting for around 80% of the carbon footprint in mobile phones and computers.
Conflict minerals refer to natural resources that are illegally mined and exported from conflict zones. Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (collectively known as 3TG) are used in the production of electronic goods such as smartphones, laptops and gaming devices. Because of the areas they are sourced from, the trade of conflict minerals finances violence, rape and extortion.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the world's main sources of conflict minerals - almost one-third of the global supply of tantalum comes from the DRC and adjoining countries. Since 1996 the country has been embroiled in conflict, resulting in the deaths of over 5.4 million people and the displacement of around 2 million.
  • Avoid purchasing products that have been produced using conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. FairPhone produces smartphones that are 100% conflict-free Fairphone
  • Choose to buy from companies that have taken steps to trace their supply chains and are attempting to avoid sourcing conflict minerals. As You Sow has ranked the largest electronic companies on their commitment to tracing their supply chains and using legitimately-sourced minerals As You Sow
Annually, e-waste comprises up to 50 million tonnes, or 8%, of municipal waste worldwide and is one of the fastest-growing sources of refuse. Increasingly, electronic goods are not designed to last. Better design, resulting in longer-lasting phones and decreased obsolescence, could also cut demand for tin, reducing the negative impacts of tin mining in Indonesia and other countries.

Some recycling companies are often not what they claim to be. Rather than dismantling broken goods in purpose-built facilities, they will be sent illegally to developing countries as 'second-hand goods'. They are then torn apart by hand to gain access to the valuable materials inside, thereby exposing workers, who are often children, to dangerous substances like mercury, cadmium and lead.
  • Recycle your old computers, tablets, televisions, mobile phones and printer cartridges RecyclingNearYou
  • Purchase electronic goods from companies that are leading the industry in efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle e-waste, or even better, buy second hand or refurbished electronic goods.
Labour exploitation occurs at both the extraction and manufacturing stages of production of electronic goods. Child and forced labour is known to occur in the extraction of minerals for electronic goods. Artisanal and Small-scale mining (ASM) refers to mining conducted with low-tech machinery and physical labour.

Independent reports have consistently recorded the poor working conditions in supplier companies. In 2012 a report of ten electronics manufacturers in China found the average overtime of employees was between 100-130 hours per month - well in excess of the maximum 36 hours allowed under Chinese law. 11 hour days with very few days off are common.
  • See 'Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics' (9 min) YouTube
  • See ' The Truth of the Apple iPad Behind Foxconn's Lies' (6 min) YouTube
  • Identify which companies have produced your electronic goods and express your desire for them to improve factory conditions and the treatment of employees. See RankaBrand ratings RankaBrand
From our smartphones to our latest weaponry, the technology that underpins modern life would be impossible without rare earth minerals. Despite the name, the 17 metallic elements are common in the earth's crust, but the techniques used to extract and refine them is labor-intensive, environmentally hazardous and increasingly costly.

China is now responsible for approximately 95% of the world's rare earth mineral production, and has at least half of the world's reserves. Australia, the third largest producer of rare earth minerals, is responsible for 2.0% of world production and has 3.9% of the world's reserves.
  • See video 'Why We Need Rare Earth Elements' (a great introduction) D News
One of the main issues the electronics industry faces is the prevalence of 'planned obsolescence' - that is, the practice of releasing products that are designed to become outdated after a short period of time, thereby shortening the replacement cycle and forcing consumers to constantly upgrade. Planned obsolescence makes repairing broken goods unappealing because it is more difficult and costly than simply replacing them.
  • Don't just throw out old electronics if they stop working, see if they can be repaired, and if not recycle it with a reputable e-waste recycling scheme iFixit
  • Identify which companies produce the electronic goods you use and encourage them to invest in longer-lasting designs and products
Tin is an important metal used as a solder in tablets and smartphones. Four smartphones contain around the same amount of tin as an entire car. Tin is contained within the crust of the earth and extracting it involves clearing and ploughing land, or dredging the seabed.

About one-third of the global tin supply comes from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung. Large-scale deforestation to make way for the mining threatens to leave up to half of Bangka's forests arid, and previously fertile ground and water aquifers have acidified.
  • Purchase electronics good from companies that are open about where they source tin from, acknowledge the damage tin extraction has caused in Indonesia, and support the introduction of sustainable mining practices. Friends of the Earth Netherlands has assessed major electronics companies based on their transparency and support for sustainable mining Mileudefensie
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) are toxic chemicals widely used in electronics. PVC, a type of plastic used to coat and insulate cables, contains carcinogenic and environmentally unfriendly substances and can leach toxics into landfill when disposed. BFRs, used to prevent circuit boards from igniting, are resistant to degradation and build up in animals and humans over time as it moves up the food chain.

Lead, used in older CRT monitors, cadmium, used in laptop batteries and computer contacts, and mercury, used in lighting devices for flat screen displays, are also of particular concern. These chemicals can damage the brain and cause intellectual impairment, and can also harm kidneys, bones, and reproductive systems.
  • See Green Gadgets: Designing the Future Greenpeace
  • See Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics 2017 Greenpeace
  • See HealthyStuff.org's 2012 study on toxic chemicals in mobile phones HealthyStuff.org
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