How does it work?
Materials Matter is both an online experience and a set of printed resources: a leaflet, set of cards and script for disassembly and reassembly of a smartphone. Participants of all ages can learn about the raw materials inside electronics.
As our electronics have become more miniaturised, they have become more materially complex. Materials Matter focuses on a specific group of “critical” raw materials, of significant economic importance, presenting a supply risk.
Sometimes it is hard to envision everything that went into getting the materials in our products. Let’s challenge ourselves, to learn how land, the environment and people are impacted by the production of the things we all buy.
Hands-on, print resources
Keeping devices we have in use for longer does two things: it slows the demand for these materials but it also gives us more time to develop recycling technologies.Jessika Luth Richter, Lund University
Impacts on people and planet
Critical raw materials are mined from other people’s land, and the impacts of this mining are often invisible to us. Mining processes require a lot of environmental management and there is a high cost associated with this, so companies think it makes more economic sense for this to occur in other regions of the world when possible. And if mining occurs in countries without rule of law, sound regulation and enforcement, risks arise. Use of acid and chemicals in mining processes can threaten health of nearby communities.
Recycling cannot keep up
The vast majority of these critical raw materials cannot be recycled effectively - many have nearly insignificant rates of recycling. Recyclers are constantly playing catch-up to an ever-faster cycle of new products, new materials and new technologies - having to invent new techniques and business models for processing dead devices. What this means in practice is that demand for virgin critical raw materials continues to increase with every new product we buy.
Needed for renewable energy
In an age when we are moving away from fossil fuels, towards renewable energy, we must recognise that the same materials in our personal electronics are needed to scale up wind and solar energy production. Gallium (used in integrated circuits), indium (used in touchscreens), germanium (used in electrodes) are needed in photovoltaic cells and neodymium (used in microphones) is needed in wind turbines. This is why it's so important to improve recycling of these materials and reduce the amount of materials used for electronics by reducing demand.
With thanks to
These resources were developed with support from EIT Materials, Ivan Nascimento, John Rowley and illustrator Rod Hunt. They were co-created by The Restart Project and partners in eight European countries, as a part of the Refer Project and the Replay Project.