The environmental consequences of our smartphone addiction

Posted June 26th 2017

Most of us now use smartphones on a daily basis, but we give little thought as to the materials contained within them. All smartphones contain a mix of precious metals such as platinum, palladium, gold, silver and copper.

A typical iPhone, one of the most predominant smartphones on the market, contains a mix of 0.034g of gold, 0.34g of silver, 0.015g of palladium and a very small amount of platinum (under a thousandth of a gram). In addition to this it also contains 25g of aluminium and 15g of copper.

Around 40% of a standard smartphone is composed of metals and the unfortunately less than 10% of these handsets are typically recycled which means the materials contained within them are not able to be recovered and used again. When you consider the sheer number of people who own a smartphone – over two billion – and the fact that most people will typically upgrade their phone every 1-2 years, the amount of material going to waste is staggering. With the smartphone obsession looking more likely to grow rather than fizzle out any time soon, the implications of this are important. These are finite resources and cannot just be tapped endlessly – there is a limit to what is available.

One solution would be to decrease the frequency with which we change smartphones, although this is highly unlikely to work in practice. It is, however, important to make people aware of the implications of their behaviour and encourage them to consider this. Awareness could also help to recover some of the materials sitting in old smartphones if people are encouraged to return them. Just one million old handsets could be turned into almost 16 tonnes of copper, 350kg of silver, 15 kg of palladium and 34kg of gold.

Although there is no clear solution this is certainly a problem that needs to be talked about. Awareness can help to alter people’s behaviour and may help us to preserve and recover some of these much needed resources.

metals in smartphone


Cold Casting

Posted December 27th 2016

Cold Casting is the term used to describe the process of mixing metal powders in a resin to create decorative features, which look as though they have been cast in metal. The castings give the appearance of solid metal, but are cheaper to produce, and are popular for use in sculptures, decorative paneling and furniture fittings, to name a few. Cold casting is also a popular technique for restoring antiques, or older furniture/household items. For example, if have something with brass fittings and you are missing one, cold casting could reproduce the part without the cost and time of doing it properly.

Different metal powders can be used in the process of cold casting, including bronze, brass, copper, silver, aluminium, tin and nickel – which powder is used will depend upon the desired finish. Bronze, copper and tin are amongst the popular metals to be used, although other powders such as porcelain and marble may be used instead of metal in some cases.

In order to make a cold casting, the resin and metal powder must be mixed together to form a thick mixture. There is no set amount of powder that should be mixed with the resin, however, good results can be achieved by carefully mixing until you have a thick paste, that is still pourable. This is then brushed into the mold to be used, making sure every surface is thoroughly coated, and once filled it is left to cure.

Once the mixture is dried, it can be removed from the mold and shaped as needed. Some casting may need to be sanded down and polished afterwards in order to get the desired effect.

The benefits of cold casting are lower cost and ease of the process. Its suitability depends on what the finished product should look like. Something that needs to have a highly polished surface, for example, may need to be further treated with a coating but a brushed finish is very easily attainable. Cold casting parts also have the benefit of not being susceptible to rust, making them far easier to maintain than if they were made of metal. Interestingly, it is also possible to create a ‘rusty’ cold cast if needed, by artificially aging it (for decorative purposes of course!).