Materials matter

Learn about the materials inside our electronics. Through online and hands-on activities, we reveal hidden environmental impacts of smartphones.

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.

Museums and educational institutions: please get in touch directly for our help.
> Online experience
> 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.

Documentary on proposed mine in Greenland

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.

Learn more about "critical raw materials"

Illustration by Rod Hunt. Animation by John Rowley.

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.

WWF on critical materials and 100% sustainable energy

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.

 

Download or request print copies

English-language resources
Italian-language resources
German-language resources
Swedish-language resources

  • We're prioritising free distribution of the print materials to UK repair groups, schools and youth groups. Sign up here and we will post you print cards and leaflets. We've had to pause our plans to create full kits with mobiles and tools due to the pandemic.
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