Throwing away your phone not only puts harsh metals into the environment, but it also compounds the problem where instead of recycling those metals, we're forced to mine more from the earth. While this New York Times article only addresses gold mining, the implications are clear. The mining processes are extremely damaging to the area (they have to use cyanide to extract the gold from the rock!), and wealthier nations don’t want to have to deal with the high costs of regulating the mining safely. The demand is so high, however, that the operations are just being pushed over to less wealthy nations, where dumping of toxic leftovers into rivers and oceans goes unchecked.
So what is the solution to all of this toxic waste? Recycling is the most obvious option. It’s estimated that less than 10% of phones are recycled right now, so there’s a lot of potential for improvement in this sector. In many instances, places like Best Buy will have a recycling receptacle right on the premises so you can dump your old electronics the same day you pick up a replacement! The EPA also has a website for finding locations near you to recycle e-waste.
For the adventurous that want to recycle on their own, here’s a YouTube video to guide you in scavenging gold from those old cell phones!
But what about the electronic parts themselves? Is there a way to get around using toxic precious metals? Maybe there's a more biologically-friendly way to design circuit boards. To start, I can think of a few superheroes who have mastered the art of organic energy generation: