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Blood in your hands - ethical electronics
September 23, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

The Bangka Belitung islands are a picture postcard tropical paradise, except where the tin is mined. Tin that is used in smartphone solders, and that is responsible for widespread ecological devastation. Following a Friends of the Earth campaign, all of the major manufacturers bar one have acknowledged their role in this destruction, and are seeking improved standards for tin mining. But if you truly want ethical consumer electronics, you'll have to wait for the Fairphone(Fairphone previously).
posted by wilful (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bar one has responded previously.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:26 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


But that makes for less tantalizing clickbait phrasing
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:30 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tin is used in nearly all electrical and electronics soldering. Linking this to smartphones specifically is silly since I doubt it represents more than a small fraction of total tin consumption.
posted by ardgedee at 5:34 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


All I can find re Apple is "Bangka Island, Indonesia, is one of the world’s principal tin-producing regions. Recent concerns about the illegal mining of tin from this region prompted Apple to lead a fact-finding visit to learn more. Using the information we’ve gathered, Apple initiated an EICC working group focused on this issue, and we are helping to fund a new study on mining in the region so we can better understand the situation."

Not exactly a clear statement. Still looking on the Apple website for more. There is nothing in their 2013 Supplier responsibility report.
posted by wilful at 5:38 PM on September 23, 2013


Not exactly a clear statement. Still looking on the Apple website for more. There is nothing in their 2013 Supplier responsibility report.

FWIW, in their 2013 report, Apple discusses deliberately sourcing conflict-free tin:

Apple is committed to using conflict-free minerals, and we’ve joined the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, a joint initiative among governments, companies, and civil society to support supply chain solutions to conflict minerals challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As one of
the first electronics companies to map its supply chain for conflict minerals, we actively survey suppliers to confirm their smelter sources. As of December 2012, we have identified 211 smelters and refiners from which our suppliers source tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold.

Apple suppliers are using conflict-free sources of tantalum, are certifying their tantalum smelters, or are transitioning their sourcing to already certified tantalum smelters. We will continue to work to certify qualified smelters, and we’ll require our suppliers to move their sourcing of tin, tungsten, and gold to certified conflict-free sources as smelters become certified.

In an industrywide effort to help suppliers source conflict-free materials, we continue to align our program with Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) guidelines, and we are working with the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). The primary focus of the EICC and GeSI Conflict-Free Smelter programs
is to certify qualified smelters as conflict-free through an independent third-party audit process.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:54 PM on September 23, 2013


BP, you realise that says nothing about tin, don't you? There is no conflict in (this part of) Indonesia.
posted by wilful at 5:57 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I blame all the "Tin Pot" organizations out there..
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 6:06 PM on September 23, 2013


SnApple
posted by unliteral at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2013


Linking this to smartphones specifically is silly

I think smartphones are the electronics drop-in for Charismatic megafauna.
posted by anonymisc at 6:14 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn I guess RoHS doesn't mean that much..
posted by Joe Chip at 6:15 PM on September 23, 2013


There's a lot of tin-plated steel in those giant cans of horse testicles (or what-have-you) they feed grade-school kids nowadays. I'm guessing the couple grams of tin in my phone that I buy every two years is a drop in the bucket compared to food cans ... but I could be wrong?

I do have a problem giving $1000 a year to Verizon/ATT to build an intelligence dossier on every American, though.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:41 PM on September 23, 2013


RVP, more than 50% of tin is used in solder. So no, it's pretty clearly all about the electronics. And I don’t know what the proportion of solder used in boards for phones versus other uses is, but it’s a booming market and one that has a tangible relationship to most people in developed countries these days, so I think those that play some silly gotcha game about “oh ho, it’s not just smartphones” or “it’s not just solder” are fundamentally missing the point. Tin mining is very much an issue for smartphone consumers, it’s particularly so for Apple consumers, and snark isn’t going to solve it. Consumer pressure is.
posted by wilful at 6:53 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


> There's a lot of tin-plated steel in those giant cans of horse testicles (or what-have-you) they feed grade-school kids nowadays. I'm guessing the couple grams of tin in my phone that I buy every two years is a drop in the bucket compared to food cans ... but I could be wrong?

You have more tin in your stove than in all the phones your family will ever use.

Tin is the most common solder ingredient. Wikipedia has a page listing most common solder alloys -- 88 of them include lead, 124 of them include tin. Historically, the most popular solder for electronics and hand soldering was Sn63/Pb37 (63% tin, 37% lead). Modern lead-free solders are primarily Sn-Ag-Cu (tin, silver, copper) in a variety of formulations.
posted by ardgedee at 7:04 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just from taking apart various dead electronics, I would have though the majority of solder was used in larger devices, if you look at the solder joints on a TV board, or in any standard power supply you see globs of the stuff. Compare that to a board in a cellphone or any miniaturised device where the solder joints are barely recognisable because they're so precise and small. I speak as someone who in desperate times recovered some solder from a dead ATX PSU to bring a RAID control board back to life.

As for Apple, it seems they're identifying suppliers of tin (which it does mention in bp's quote) and then working with those suppliers to move to certified smelters and mining operations, which seems like it might be a better end goal then just agreeing there's a problem. I'm not sure if it's just because they're the big target, but their work on improving the sources and 'ingredients' in their products seems to be about the best in the industry, or at least the most open to the public. Is there another company that you think is leading the way in a way that Apple could learn from?
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:10 PM on September 23, 2013


BP, you realise that says nothing about tin, don't you?

It says tin three or four times on the page I cited (at least). The point being that Apple sources tin (among other metals) with ethical considerations in mind and, more importantly, in practice. More specifics would be nice, but the implication that Apple is the only customer for tin that doesn't care where it comes from seems false.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 PM on September 23, 2013


ardgedee: "Tin is used in nearly all electrical and electronics soldering. Linking this to smartphones specifically is silly …"

I would've gone for 'wilfully deceitful clickbaiting and eco-scaremongering' myself…
posted by Pinback at 10:17 PM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


agree that the connection to smartphones specifically is reaching - but in general, every time we are forced to realize that our carefree affluent life of consumption is actually doing harm somewhere out of earshot contributes somewhat to overall harm reduction.

There are many, many harm reduction strategies that each of us can take. not getting a new phone or computer until your current one is broken is certainly one.
posted by Abinadab at 5:09 AM on September 24, 2013


Abinadab: "agree that the connection to smartphones specifically is reaching - but in general, every time we are forced to realize that our carefree affluent life of consumption is actually doing harm somewhere out of earshot contributes somewhat to overall harm reduction."

True. So how does an example that is easily exposed as being misrepresentative help people understand and accept that?

The average amount of tin in an aerosol 'tin' can (i.e. mild steel, tinplated on both sides) is 2g~2.8g/m2. The average 'tin' can is a bit less than that; 1.5g~2g/m2. By comparison, the average amount of tin in a mobile phone is 1g.

Chances are, if you live in a typical Western household, you've thrown away more tin in the last week than is in all of your family's mobile phones combined.

Want to reduce the amount of tin mined and save the "picture postcard tropical paradise"? Recycle your tin food cans, stop buying aerosol deodorant, and give up Easy Cheese & Reddi-whip…
posted by Pinback at 11:36 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pinback, my suspicion is that tin cans are already getting recycled at high rates compared to the tin in electronics. Saying "start recycling your cans" implies that recycling cans is something that hasn't happened yet. But it is actually something that has already happened, which means that now it's time to focus on electronics.
posted by anonymisc at 12:29 PM on September 24, 2013


Which is why I differentiated between food tins and tin/steel aerosol cans. World-wide, recycling rates for the latter are miniscule - 85% of recycling programs can handle them but, conversely, 85% of people think they aren't recyclable.

And, as someone pointed out much earlier upthread, the amount of tin in all the phones you're likely to own or ever have owned pales into insignificance when compared to the amount in your washer, dryer, oven, stove, or car.

I'm not saying don't reduce/reuse/recycle your phones. I'm saying you can make the largest amount of difference by far through starting with the things that actually do use the vast majority of tin mined in the world today, not the conspicuously obvious things some luddite magazine or website insinuated were the worst offenders.
posted by Pinback at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2013


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