Smartphones – new investigation reveals damage to forests and coral

Smartphones sold by best-selling brands almost certainly contain tin from Indonesia where mining is devastating forests and farmland, coral reefs and many communities, a Friends of the Earth investigation reveals today.

Our research shows that Samsung and Apple deal with companies that use tin mined on Bangka island in Indonesia. They may not have known this or about the devastating effect of mining on the island.

Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets. Around a third of the world’s tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.

Mining for Smartphones: the True Cost of Tin’ reveals:

  • Dangerous and unregulated tin mining on Bangka
    Police figures show that in 2011 an average of one miner a week died in an accident.
  • Coral and sea life threatened
    Silt from tin mining is killing seagrass eaten by turtles, and coral reefs, driving away fish and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods.
  • Farmers struggling to grow crops
    Soil has become acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.

The devastation in Bangka is also explored in this recent Guardian article.

When we asked Samsung and Apple if they used tin from Bangka, they neither confirmed nor denied it.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said:

“Though Apple and Samsung may not have realised it, our research shows that mining tin to make both companies’ smartphones may come at a terrible cost to people and the environment.”

Millions of us love our phones – we don’t need to know complex details about how they’re made but we do want to be sure that people or the planet aren’t hurt in the process.

Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth

Samsung sold around 95 million smartphones in 2011, and Apple around 93 million. Analysts say there are likely to be more than 2 billion smartphones in use within the next 3 years.

Experts say that innovative design and better reuse of old phones could cut demand for tin.

Friends of the Earth’s new 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.

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