Mining and society are intricately connected. We are so dependent upon mining that it is far more realistic to question how, when, and where we will mine than to question if we will mine.
But this brings forth some serious challenges. The resources we depend upon are finite, and we are consuming an ever-increasing amount of them. At the current rate of growth in consumption, it will not be long before we will need more resources than our planet can provide. What will we do then?
More significantly, what can and will we do to prevent this scenario from unfolding?
‘Rethink’ is an exploration into how society can become sustainable and what roles all of us play in achieving this goal. It is a call to action to begin the change now, with the recognition of the factors that can drive or inhibit such change. Most importantly, it is a dialogue on how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
This past week saw the launch of Apple’s latest iPhones – the 6s and 6s+. As has become usual for these icons of modern electronic consumerism, many people could not wait to get their hands on the latest and greatest. There is perhaps no rival for the anticipation Apple generates for its new products, and with it comes one very large question – what happens with all those old phones?
The world of smart phones is so different from the world of even 20 years ago. When technology moved slower, phones lasted for decades. Now they last a few years. But with this change also came the question of what happens with the waste. The issue is these electronics, for the most part, are not designed to be recycled. They are designed to sell – past that point it is no longer the manufacturer’s responsibility. While recycling programs exist in many areas, the recovery rate of materials is quite varied. Also of concern are the environmental and health risks associated with some of the materials used in manufacturing these products. One potential way to see an improvement in both of these measures is to hold manufacturers responsible for the entire lifespan of the product.
But here is where we face potentially conflicting objectives.
Take Apple’s latest financing options offered on iPhones in the US as a case in point. Under their new plan, users are leasing and returning the phone to Apple. If the products are recycled after two years, then Apple will have taken responsibility for the product from cradle to grave (the other option for them to do this is with their trade-in programs).
The other side of the story is that this new leasing option is driven by a need to continually expand sales. Will people exercise the option of trading up their phones every year now? What are the consequences of that? Even if iPhones were 100% recyclable, there are still the energy costs involved in manufacturing and shipping to consider on top of the need for more materials to meet the desired increased demand.
When change is driven by economics however, and we are still in a world with economic models that demand constant growth, perhaps there is some comfort in thinking companies like Apple are designing their products with a cradle to cradle mindset, even if it does currently come at the price of forced obsolescence.
For myself, I am sticking with the ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t replace it’ approach.
Photo:victorgrigas / Wikicommons
The views expressed by the author(s) of Rethink are not necessarily reflective of the organization and are provided as ideas for consideration in context of a changing world view.