Smartphones have revolutionized our daily lives. From instant messaging to global interaction at our fingertips, today’s communication is fast, efficient and low-cost.
But how smart are our phones when it comes to the impact on the environment? Do you know what’s in your smartphone?
There have been significant steps taken by big players in the technology industry to clean up their act, but environmental, social and economic concerns, particularly around human rights, remain concerning our extraction of precious metals in general.
Gold, silver, cobalt, tin, tantalum, tungsten and copper are all essential components of mobile phones and other electrical devices we use daily. And, since mining is one of the most intensive users of heavy fuel oil, extraction contributes significantly to climate change.
Public awareness can go some way towards promoting a mineral sector that contributes to sustainable socio-economic development. While negative mining impacts are inevitable, many can be avoided along the mining cycle.
Our smartphones are among the most resource intensive by weight on the planet. They also contain palladium and platinum, and less valuable but still significant aluminium and other rare materials that are difficult to mine.
Yet, most companies publish little information on their suppliers, keeping environmental performance and impacts out of sight. There is also a lack of urgency and transparency in tackling global e-waste.
Despite the valuable materials contained within, the electronics industry generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste each year. Less than 16 per cent of global e-waste volumes are recycled in the formal sector.
Thinking beyond our phone footprint
With the 300 tonnes of gold used in a broader range of electronics each year, end-of-life electronic equipment offers an “urban mine” and massive recycling potential for the secondary supply of gold.
Feng Wang, Programme Officer at UN Environment for Life Cycle Thinking and Sustainable Consumption and Production, said:
“Beyond carbon footprint, the biggest environmental concern where e-waste is concerned is the impact at the end of a product’s life. Recycling practices, especially in developing countries, mean that pollution from hazardous materials and metals at dumping sites has grave consequences for the local environment and informal workers.”
The UN Environment report “Waste crime – Waste risks” highlights that e-waste—electrical equipment including computers, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators—also emits toxic mercury, arsenic, zinc lead and brominated flame-retardants.
Making our phones smarter
Yet, around 80 per cent of the carbon footprint of a smartphone occurs during the manufacturing process, with 16 per cent down to consumer use and 3 per cent accounted for by transport.
And as demand for smartphones rises, the lifespan of devices shrinks. Increasingly sophisticated smart phones are discarded. Tough competition drives mobile companies to produce the next, best, latest, thinner and smarter phone.
Product lifetime is getting shorter and shorter, thus less sustainable,” said Wang. “We can all play a part, by recycling, reselling or repurposing our smartphones with responsible organizations. But recycling or buying fewer models won’t solve the problem alone.”
In 2016, around 435,000 tonnes of mobile phones were discarded across the globe, with an estimated cost in raw materials of US$10.7 billion. If all phones had a longer life span and could enter a second-hand market, the value could be even higher.
“The fast replacement rate of smartphones due to technical development and market strategy is unsustainable, often generating unnecessary waste of fully-functioning devices,” added Wang.
Also, due to data security and people’s emotional attachment to their devices, most people choose to store their waste and obsolete phones in their drawers, sending them to collection and recycling channels for responsible treatment.
Making our phones truly smart not only entails recycling, upcycling and repurposing materials that go into them. But also, building them to last: reducing our phone footprint and designing sustainable models which make waste in the long term a thing of the past.
Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology
Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.
Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.
The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.
There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.
According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year.
In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.
In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.
Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.
There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.
Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.
The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.
Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.
The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.
Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.
From our partner Tehran Times
Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right
Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.
Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.
The concept of “network neutrality” is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.
Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.
It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullﬁll basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.
As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.
Future Energy Systems Need Clear AI Boundaries
Today, almost 60% of people worldwide have access to the Internet via an ever-increasing number of electronic devices. And as Internet usage grows, so does data generation.
Data keeps growing at unprecedented rates, increasingly exceeding the abilities of any human being to analyse it and discover its underlying structures.
Yet data is knowledge. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Today’s high-speed computing systems can “learn” from experience and, thus, effectively replicate human decision-making.
Besides holding its own among global chess champions, AI aids in converting unstructured data into actionable knowledge. At the same time, it enables the creation of even more insightful AI – a win-win for all. However, this doesn’t happen without challenges along the way.
Commercial uses of AI have expanded steadily in recent years across finance, healthcare, education and other sectors. Now, with COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, many countries have turned to innovative technologies to halt the spread of the virus.
The pandemic, therefore, has further accelerated the global AI expansion trend.
Energy systems need AI, too.
Rapidly evolving smart technology is helping to make power generation and distribution more efficient and sustainable. AI and the Big Data that drives it have become an absolute necessity. Beyond just facilitating and optimising, these are now the basic tools for fast, smart decision making.
With the accelerating shift to renewable power sources, AI can help to reduce operating costs and boost efficiency. Crucially, AI-driven “smart grids” can manage variable supply, helping to maximise the use of solar and wind power.
Read more in IRENA’s Innovation Toolbox.
Risks must be managed to maximise the benefits.
AI usage in the energy sector faces expertise-related and financial constraints.
Decision makers, lacking specialised knowledge, struggle to appreciate the wide-ranging benefits of smart system management. In this respect, energy leaders have proven more conservative than those in other sectors, such as healthcare.
Meanwhile, installing powerful AI tools without prior experience brings considerable risks. Data loss, poor customisation, system failures, unauthorised access – all these errors can bring enormous costs.
Yet like it or not, interconnected devices are on the rise.
What does this all mean for the average consumer?
Smart phones, smart meters and smart plugs, connected thermostats, boilers and smart charging stations have become familiar, everyday items. Together, such devices can form the modern “smart home”, ideally powered by rooftop solar panels.
AI can help all of us, the world’s energy consumers, become prosumers, producing and storing our own energy and interacting actively with the wider market. Our data-driven devices, in turn, will spawn more data, which helps to scale up renewables and maximise system efficiency.
But home data collection raises privacy concerns. Consumers must be clearly informed about how their data is used, and by whom. Data security must be guaranteed. Consumer privacy regulations must be defined and followed, with cybersecurity protocols in place to prevent data theft.
Is the future of AI applications in energy bright?
Indeed, the outlook is glowing, but only if policy makers and societies strike the right balance between innovation and risk to ensure a healthy, smart and sustainable future.
Much about AI remains to be learned. As its use inevitably expands in the energy sector, it cannot be allowed to work for the benefit of only a few. Clear strategies need to be put in place to manage the AI use for the good of all.
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