Conflict elements is the term given to rare minerals and metals whose extraction has been linked to both environmental and humanitarian issues – and many of these are the elements that form the cornerstone of the electronics that we use in both our personal and professional lives.
Currently the list of conflict elements includes; gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin, with calls for further elements such as cobalt, silicon, aluminium, copper and lead to be added to the list of officially designated conflict elements. Each of these are finite materials with significantly diminishing amounts of them remaining in their natural state, making them a precious and valuable resource. However many of these elements are only found in countries with unstable political and economic climates along with significant concerns raised in their human rights records.
The four official conflict elements are mined almost exclusively (apart from gold, 60% of which goes to the jewellery industry) for use in the electronics industry:
- Gold – as we saw in our last blog post, gold is used in electronics due to its high levels of conductivity and it’s low corrosion rates.
- Tantalum – due to it’s high melting point, high levels of conductivity, low levels of corrosion and it being one of the few metals that is almost entirely resistant to acidic solutions, tantalum is prized for use in electronic capacitors and high powered resistors.
- Tungsten – is a strong, dense metal that can retain a great amount of heat without melting. It’s main uses are in both electronics and aerospace applications, along with lighting filaments and heating elements.
- Tin – having a very low melting point makes tin an ideal material for use in the soldering processes and compounds that are employed to connect elements in electronic circuit boards.
Whilst being incredibly important in the manufacture of electronics these elements are not only becoming rarer in the natural world, but are also most commonly found in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this area there is evidence that the mines producing these elements are controlled by violent groups who use the profits to finance armed groups or perpetrators of violence.
There are also reports of mines in conflict areas employing child labour, modern slavery and extremely hazardous working conditions to maximise the available profit, that then purportedly goes on to finance both sides of the bloody civil war that has been raging in the area for the last 15 years.
So whilst our reliance on electronics is increasing what can you do to avoid the use of these conflict elements? The obvious answer is to limit your use of electronics entirely, however this is hardly a practical solution. Another option is to ensure that the elements used in your electronics comes from a non-conflict source. However for most people this is almost impossible to do, as complex supply chains can muddy the waters and much of this information is difficult to access for the average individual.
However there is one simple step that could make a huge difference – recycle your electronics. There is currently estimated to be higher levels of many of the conflict elements locked up in existing (used or unused) electronic items than remaining in the ground, and with modern advanced recycling techniques incredibly high levels of these can be fully and effectively recycled.
So whether you are simply getting a new personal laptop or smartphone, or upgrading your companies entire IT system, ensure that any old or unwanted electronics are reused or recycled.
Buy IT Back are specialists in computer recycling, with more than 25 years in the business. This means that they can treat your unused electronics with the highest levels of environmental care, ensuring that they are either refurbished and resold (meaning an even lower carbon footprint) or fully recycled – and what’s even more, they can even pay you for doing so!
To find out more contact Buy IT Back today.