Due to concepts like obsolescence and as a result of current manufacturing practices, as well as the scale on which products are now mass-produced, it is unsurprising that every single product that we use produces some form of pollution, either during its creation, during its use, or when its use is ended. There are varying degrees of pollution produced by each item used within society today and it is no secret that some cause more than others; however, it is also equally true that some forms of pollution cause greater harm than others (Pollution, 2015). In order to better understand this concept, a common, everyday item has been selected as a means of illustrating this point, as simple cell phone.
A cell phone can come in a variety of different styles and fashions. It can be “smart” or dumb. Simply, it is a telephone with access to a cellular radio system so that it may be used over a wide area, without having to have a physical connection to a network, like a traditional landline. A recent study indicates that the average age that an individual first gets a cell phone in the United States today is age 6 (KTRK-TV, 2015). There are approximately 321,354,682 people currently residing within the United States alone, a number that constantly changes due to the fact that there is one birth approximately every 8 seconds, approximately one death every thirteen seconds, one international migrant approximately every 33 seconds, indicating a net gain of roughly one person every 12 seconds (United States Census Bureau, 2015). This does not even begin to include numbers for the rest of the world, but with numbers like this, it is no surprise that by 2011, the number of cell phones present within the United States exceeded the population at that time, a disparity that continues to exist (Kang, 2011). Cell phones are used as status symbols, and as a means of communication. An individual can have multiple cell phones at a given time, one for personal use, one for work use, and sometimes may even have an on call cell phone that they must utilize as well. As of 2013, there were “6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide” (Schuetze, 2015, p. 1). This indicates a direct relationship between the cell phone and to the population of the world.
In addition to the increasing population, planned obsolescence serves to further increase the number of cell phones produced. Planned obsolescence is “a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete – that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception” (The Economist, 2015, p. 1). Pollution is generated through the manufacturing process for each of these phones, and as a direct result of the disposal of these phones; it is also generated as a direct result of the use of cell phones themselves, in the form of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) pollution (Esplugas, 2015). The microwave emissions that occur as a result of cell phone usage affect every living thing on the planet, regardless of whether it uses a cell phone or not (Esplugas, 2015).
There are immediate and direct consequences of this pollution to both people and to the ecosystem as a whole. The first issue stems from the fact that, within a three year period of time, Americans alone discard approximately 130 million cellular phones a year, equaling approximately 65,000 tons of trash (National News Associated Press, 2002; Cosgrove-Mather, 2002). This poses an even greater issue, outside of the amount of trash produced, trash that fills up landfills and damages the environment, but poses an additional health risk to humans and the ecosystem alike, as when these devices are not properly disposed of, and make their way to the incinerators prior to deposit in a landfill, the components used therein are burned off, creating “persistent toxins” that are damaging to both the environment and to humans, including “arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc” (National News Associated Press, 2002, p. 1). Toxins of this nature have been previously identified as leading to cancer and various other neurological illnesses and disorders, particularly in younger individuals (National News Associated Press, 2002).
In addition to the adverse effects that come from the creation and destruction of cell phones, EMF pollution is another consideration. Numerous studies have been conducted to indicate the harmful nature of EMF pollution on living beings (Gowd, Gupta & Jauhari, 2013; Davis, 2014). Women who keep their cell phones in their bras, for example, have been shown to develop breast cancer within five years of starting this practice (Davis, 2014). Men who keep their cell phones in their pockets have been shown to have fewer and sicker, sperm, leading to decreased fertility and a potential to have offspring damaged by the associated cell phone radiation that occurs from such close contact (Davis, 2014). This creates a quality of life issue not only for me personally, but for every living thing on the planet (Esplugas, 2015). Offspring are more likely to be less frequent and increasingly likely to be damaged in some way. The production and destruction of these items serves to further increase issues associated with climate change due to the burning of resources in the making thereof.
The only true way to work to reduce the overall issues caused by cell phones, both physical pollution and EMF pollution, is to work as a society to reduce our overall dependence and usage of the objects, to ensure that when it comes time to dispose of a phone it is disposed of in the appropriate manner, through a cell phone recycling program, and to ensure that new phones are purchased only when needed, as opposed to when the next model comes out. While there are no treatments for these types of pollution, by working to reduce the crutch that is cell phone use, the pollution associated therewith will subsequently lessen. Reading about the associated medical side effects of cell phone use was enough to lessen the amount of time that I use my phone, and I suggest reading up on this matter further, as an in depth look at the matter will cause anyone else to do the same.
Cosgrove-Mather, B. (2002). Cell Phone Waste. Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cell-phone-waste/
Davis, D. (2014). The Connection Between Air Pollution and Cell Phones You’ve Never Heard About. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/devra-davis-phd/show-me-the-bodies-a-monu_b_6165400.html
Espulgas, R. (2015). Electromagnetic pollution: the mobile phone hazard. Sci-culture.com. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from http://www.sci-culture.com/advancedpoll/GCSE/electromagnetic%20pollution.html
Gowd, K., Gupta, R., & Jauhari, S. (2013). Determination of Invisible Environmental Pollution Due to Cell Phones EMF Radiation and projections for 2030. Current World Environment Journal, 8(2), 283-290. doi:10.12944/cwe.8.2.14
The Economist. (2015). Planned obsolescence. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from http://www.economist.com/node/13354332
United States Census Bureau. (2015). Population Clock. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from http://www.census.gov/popclock/