FoE recently carried out a six-month investigation which found that tin used in popular brands of smartphones is linked to the devastation of the environment in Indonesia.

According to FOE, electrical giants Samsung and Apple deal with companies that use tin mined on Bangka Island in Indonesia, but refuse to confirm or deny the allegations.

Friends of the Earth Europe corporate accountability campaigner Paul de Clerck said: “Samsung and Apple refuse to tell us where their tin comes from. We are asking the European Union to urgently draw up regulations forcing companies to disclose the resources they use and the environmental and human rights impacts associated with them.”

Mining for tin which is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets, has a number of detrimental impacts on the Bangka’s environment including the destruction of coral reefs and the destruction of forests.

There are now more than 1 billion smartphones in use around the world, according to consulting firm Strategy Analytics and almost half of all mined tin is turned into solder for the electronics industry.

Around a third of the world’s tin is from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.

Samsung sold around 95 million smartphones in 2011 and producing these used enough water to fill an area of land over twice the size of Birmingham.

The investigation signalled the launch of FoE’s Make it Better campaign last week which calls on consumers to ask the smartphone makers to back new rules for all companies to come clean about their supply chains.

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “The Make It Better campaign is asking smartphone makers to tell us if their phones contain tin that’s linked to the destruction of precious forests and coral reefs and wrecking the lives of communities in Indonesia.”

“And to prevent problems elsewhere, we want them to back new rules for all companies to come clean about how they do business – so we can love our favourite products, and love the way they’re made.”

FoE believes that there are a number of ways to reduce the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

All mobile phones should be designed for ease of repair or upgrade it claims, pointing out that currently this is not the case.

The iPhone has been notorious for use of nonreplaceable batteries and special screws that prevent users from opening them.

Alternatives are possible says the charity. One of Nokia’s concept phones has a modular camera that could be upgraded if technology improved and only one screw was required to open it for repair or recycling. Another is designed to be taken apart in two minutes.

FoE’s campaign has come in the same year that the British Government took action to reduce the amount of WEEE going to landfill.

The Government’s Resource Action Plan was published in March setting out a framework for boosting the recovery and reuse of rare earth metals from WEEE after industry leaders called for tighter controls on e-waste. 

Despite this, some industry leaders feel the legislation surrounding the WEEE Directive isn’t robust enough to support this work and needs to be tightened.

Conor McGlone

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