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Scarce chemical elements used up by smartphones

Sky News logo Sky News 22/1/2019

a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Smartphones contain at least 30 chemical elements © Getty Smartphones contain at least 30 chemical elements

Many of the 30 elements included in smartphones are becoming increasingly scarce thanks to limited supplies, their source in conflict zones, and a failure to recycle.

And scientists will on Tuesday highlight the problem with a new periodic table showing the scarcity of the natural elements.

Among the chemical elements used in smartphones are copper, gold and silver for wiring, lithium and cobalt in the battery, and aluminium, silicon, oxygen and potassium in the glass screen.

a variety of items on a table: Do we really need a new phone every two years? © PA Do we really need a new phone every two years?

The bright colours on your phone's display are produced by small quantities or rare earth elements, such as yttrium, terbium and dysprosium, which are also used to help your phone vibrate.

Estimates suggest around 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone - leaving the elements that make them effectively useless.

Professor David Cole-Hamilton, emeritus professor at St Andrews university, said this means people should question whether they need to replace their smartphone every two years.

"It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements," he said.

"There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

"Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?"

The new periodic table will be revealed in the European Parliament on Tuesday by Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody.

It marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the original periodic table - a list of the known elements numbered and arranged in rows - whose invention is credited to Dimitri Mendeleev.

The design on the new table was carried out as part of a project by the European Chemical Society, representing more than 160,000 chemists.

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