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Where does your smartphone come from? That question doesn’t have an easy answer. Chances are good that the device was assembled in a factory in China, but the materials that went into it likely came from all over the world. The copper wiring from Indonesia, the cobalt in its rechargeable battery from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the iron in its speakers and microphone from the Amazon. 

The combined effort to extract these materials — and the many others required to turn them into a smartphone — takes a heavy toll on people and on the environment. 

To start with, there’s the carbon footprint: Four-fifths of the carbon emissions generated by a new iPhone come not from international shipping but from mining and manufacturing. Then there’s the rampant ecosystem destruction: Mining for gold — used for connectors and wires in electronic devices — is a major cause of deforestation in the Amazon, for example, while tin mining off the coast of Indonesia is responsible for destroying coral reefs. 

The human rights abuses associated with mining for smartphone materials are just as alarming. To take just one example, much of the cobalt ... Read more

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