L’gold is a precious metal in the technology industry. Although it is not the metal with the best electrical conductivity, its malleability and corrosion resistance make it an essential component for the longevity of the product. Smartphone manufacturers use gold for pins, relays and connectors, components that send signals or must remain flexible for the life of the device.
On the Apple iPhone, there’s gold in cameras, wireless charging coils, and logic boards. The amount of gold on an iPhone is very small, but the numbers are increasing rapidly. “On the iPhone XS, for example, gold represents less than 0.01 percent of the product’s total mass,” or as little as 0.018 grams, according to Apple’s 2019 Environmental Responsibility Report. However, Apple sold nearly 200 million iPhones in 2019 alone. “Much of the material footprint on the phone is gold,” said Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit, referring to the excessive environmental impact of gold on an iPhone. relative to its weight.
A gold mine… in your pocket
If it’s not recycled, the gold on your iPhone could come from one mine in a developing country and powered by a number of foundries and refineries. Each of these steps produces waste and consumes energy. “On average, the production of a single gold ring leaves behind 20 tons of mining waste,” said Payal Sampat, director of the mining program at Earthworks, a nonprofit environmental activism organization. “This statistic is probably over 30 to 40 tons of mine waste.”
Wells of mining and cyanide leaching – two common methods of gold mining – have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of habitat in the world’s most biodiverse regions, including the Amazon rainforest.
The Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea pollutes more than five million tons of toxic waste with cyanide each year. From Romania and Russia to Ghana, China and even Canada, the dumping of gold mine dams has poisoned landscapes, caused massive fish deaths and damaged the livelihoods of indigenous communities around the world.
Gold mining operations have one history of financing of armed conflicts. In 2015, more than half of Congolese gold mines were guarded by armed fighters. About 80% of artisanal miners in Congo work in gold sites, which have a significantly greater armed presence than any other type of mining in the region.
Experts believe these mining operations have funded wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1996 and 2003, leading to the deaths of over five million people. In response to the conflict, the United States, the European Union and China have created international trade regulations to prevent companies from acquiring minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In fact, sections of the US Dodd-Frank Act, added during the Obama administration, required US publicly traded companies to disclose their source of minerals to make sure they did not come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the other hand, the Dodd-Frank Act did not address the conflict minerals trade in all regions. Many companies have ignored and continued to finance conflicts in other regions such as Colombia, where theIllegal gold mining has surpassed cocaine production as the main source of funding for organized crime and guerrilla groups.
Today, it’s hard to know if your iPhone’s gold is from a conflict zone, because Apple doesn’t publish a comprehensive guide to its supply chain. Apple is trying to circumvent the problem of gold consumption through recycling. Although the company says its ultimate goal is to create a circular supply chain, with Apple products made only from recycled materials from its old products, the company continues to rely on mined gold as the primary source of its products. .
Apple continues to get most of its gold from countries like Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, where gold mines poison the earth, fuel corruption, violate the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, and finance militant groups.