There’s nothing simple about an iPhone. Apple's ubiquitous smartphone contains a variety of metals, and utilizes 75 of the 118 elements found in the periodic table.
Aluminum is the most dominant, comprising about 24 percent of an iPhone. There are also small amounts of many non-renewable, rare earth elements that are only found in certain parts of the world, and are often difficult to mine. These minerals include yttrium, terbium, europium and gadolinium – used in the screen's display, to make the phone vibrate, and to make the speakers operate properly.
A look inside an iPhone:
- Rare earth minerals are mined in China, threatening millions of residents with radioactive waste and other mining byproducts. Electronics companies need these minerals, as there are no adequate substitutes.
- Gold is used in an iPhone’s conductors, and tin is used in the soldering process. Gold, tin and tantalum are considered “conflict minerals,” meaning their poorly regulated mining processes threaten humans and the environment.
- Other substances found in the iPhone are less controversial. Silicon is used in transistors and as an element in the reinforced glass screen, along with aluminum, potassium and oxygen. Lithium can be found in the phone's battery, and carbon is used throughout the phone.