Earth Hour 2018: The real cost of your mobile phone

The advantages and disadvantages of mobile phones on the health of users is often discussed and debated. In some ways, they have improved our lives and health, while in others, they have caused new social problems.

However, according to Oxford Insight Geography 5, mobile phones also make an impact on the environment.

When exploring the ways in which the environment is changing, it is important to look not only at the effects of these changes but also their causes. For example, when investigating declines in fish populations, geographers look for causes such as increases in world population, pollution levels and changing consumption patterns. Similarly, when looking at the environmental changes brought about by industry and mining around the world, geographers need to explore a range of possible causes. One of the main factors driving the growth in mining and production is increased demand for electronic consumer goods such as mobile phones. Current estimates put the number of mobile phone subscribers around the world at about seven billion. This number has increased significantly over the past decade. The raw materials used in the production of mobile phones come from different locations around the world. Dramatic increases in demand for these materials have created serious environmental problems in a number of locations.


Plastics are a by-product of refining oil. Oil is usually found in the earth’s crust and is accessed by drilling into the crust, either on land or on the seabed. There are significant environmental risks associated with mining and using oil. These range from the potential for oil spills at the mine site to the greenhouse gases produced when oil is used for fuel. Many plastics are hard to dispose of and take thousands of years to break down. Since the 1950s, more than a billion tonnes of plastic have been discarded around the world.



Because copper conducts electrical signals, it is used a great deal in electronic devices. Copper is mined in many places around the world. Chile’s Escondida copper mine is the world’s largest. The mine is essentially two giant pits dug into the desert floor. Waste rock is left in piles called tailings and copper is transported in pipes 180 kilometres to the coast. Like many large mines, Escondida is located in the desert. This creates problems for the mining operators who need water for their mining operation and their workers. A desalination plant is being built on the coast to provide this water. The water will be piped to the mine.


Coltan is a mineral ore, high in iron, that is used in mobile phones as well as video-game players and some computers. Australia is the world’s largest supplier of coltan. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa is another large supplier. To reach the coltan in the DRC, miners have stripped away rainforest, including the rainforest in national parks. The roads they have cut through the rainforest to reach the mines are also used by local people to hunt wild animals for food. One of the animals hunted by locals for meat in the rainforest is the gorilla. The western lowland gorilla is now a critically endangered animal and has all but vanished from the rainforests of the DRC.


Insight Geography 5

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