Ever wonder where something like an iPhone 7 comes from before it winds up on the shelf? Sure they’re sleek, but electronics are also notoriously complex to manufacture—because so many difference types of materials go into them. Of the 118 elements on the periodic table, at least 70 can be found in cell phones. The supply chain for electronics criss-crosses all over the globe. Now, a new game, called In the Loop, helps you unravel it.
I admit it. I’m one of millions of Americans sporting a slick, wafer-thin cell phone. And, like so many others, I’m rarely (if ever) without it. But if we all knew a little more about our beloved smart phones—found out where they come from and how they’re made—we might discover a tarnish in the gleaming surface of our phones. Our smartphones actually aren’t all that smart: they’re harming workers, poisoning critical ecosystems, and challenging the premise that technology makes the world better.
No, no these aren’t trailers for I, Robot, the sequel. But they could be. Gael Langevin, a French sculptor and model-maker, has been working for over year on this open-source, 3D-printed robot. Soon the robot will be shown at this years World Maker Faire in New York (September 21-22). But you can see all the progress Langevin makes on the InMoov Project—a blog on DIY printed robotics. We think this is a sign that the robot uprising is on its way. Bring it on.
Every year, Americans spend $78 billion on furniture. The average household replaces that furniture every 5 to 7 years; some of it inevitably finds its way into the dump. We need to rethink our frequent interactions with objects that are designed to fall apart quickly. This goes for our electronics, but it also goes for everyday items like our furniture. The advantages to investing in well-made furniture are critical when it comes to sustainability and repairability.
In a low, canary yellow warehouse in Kumasi, Ghana, eleven men command a mass of tools—a band saw, grinder, and drill press—to clean and prepare a pile of bamboo. They’re making bikes: inexpensive, lightweight bikes strong enough to stand up to Kumasi’s long rainy season. These men are employees of Bamboo Bikes Limited, the Ghana factory of the Bamboo Bike Project, dedicated to providing more affordable transportation options in rural Africa and teaching life-long job skills.
The iPad’s light, sleek, simple construction belies its complex origins. There’s a lot of stuff in the iPad: aluminum and glass, of course, but also other heavy metals and toxic chemicals. And manufacturing each 1.44-pound iPad results in over 285 times its own weight in greenhouse gas emissions. The manufacturing of and material used in the iPad are two reasons why the iPad must be made in China—and not just in the ways you’d expect.
Servers were the size of refrigerators and a single CPU chip had about $300 of gold when Montreal-based electronics recycling company FCM Recycling started harvesting precious metals from computers’ circuit boards and memory. Last week, I chatted with FCM representatives Chris and Andrew about the the work they’re doing and the e-waste climate in Canada.
This post was originally published in The Atlantic.
That big hole in the ground? It’s a pit mine at the Molycorp Mountain Pass rare earth facility in California’s Mojave Desert. Metals mined from pits like that were used to make the cell phone in your pocket and the computer screen you’re staring at right now. I visited Molycorp two weeks ago, as part of our investigation into the sources and consequences of consumer electronics manufacturing.