Thinking in material cycles is a must to decrease future dependancies - economically and politically!
More than one billion cellular phones are sold every year. Huge numbers of flat screen displays and other electrical appliances are thrown onto the global market. And the more mankind uses these gadgets, the more dependency grows.
When we talk dependency, the question of sustainability is – must be – always very close, too. Looking at the material side of high tech goods, we come across dozens of elements most of us never have heard of before. And looking at the share of these elements in a single product, we think they can be outright neglected. That is where danger is!
The production of – for example – an IPhone requires elements like Selenium, Indium and lots of others. There is simply no way to substitute them, at least not as far as we know today. So producers and consumers have a substantial interest in ample supplies. And even though the amount used for a single product, the total amount required by the industry is growing rapidly.
It’s a fact that China has its hands over roughly 90% of supplies of many of these elements - dependency also here! And there is more: China’s policy tends to protect these supplies and to save them for its own industries. A clever strategy, indeed, but also a policy which may in the future prove destroyable for industries and companies in any other country.
But, yes: There is a counter-strategy! Avoid such dependency by either finding a way to substitute these materials – or by finding new, efficient ways to recycle used appliances. Whereas in a ton of rock, professional miners can extract around 5 grams of gold, a ton of used cellular phones contains up to 250 grams of pure, precious gold – next to all those other elements whose market prices have been growing rapidly in the last few years. Recycling, cradle-to-cradle: That is a field we need to explore much deeper than before if we seriously want to pursue sustainability. And yet: It is one of the most challenging fields of innovation where we have to search for answers.