You probably never considered the chemical composition of your smartphone, but it's a topic HealthyStuff.org decided to breach, the results of which were posted on iFixIt. iFixIt, best known for tearing down electronic gadgets and rating them with a "Repairability Score" on a scale of 1-10 (the higher the score, the easier it is to service a product), explains why the chemical analysis of 36 mobile phones, including the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, should be of concern to consumers.
"Why does it matter? Toxic chemicals don’t disappear when you throw your phone away. Though electronics recycling is up in general in the US, cell phone recycling rates lag behind," iFixIt explains. "Each year, Americans discard 130 million cell phones, of which only 8 percent are recycled properly. When phones are not recycled, they often end up in landfills or incinerators, which can release heavy metals into groundwater and air, respectively."
According to iFixIt, some states have enacted bans on dumping electronics in landfills and incinerators, but 32 states still don't. The result is that the groundwater underneath ends up contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, which iFixIt says are linked to liver, thyroid, and immune diseases.
"Even sending a phone to an electronics recycler will not always keep it from polluting the environment," iFixIt adds. "Some 'recyclers' actually ship used electronics overseas to places such as Ghana, China, and India. In the best cases, these electronics are refurbished or repaired, used, and eventually dumped (usually in landfills without expensive liners to protect groundwater). Unfortunately, formal recycling practices in developing countries are currently minimal at best, where they exist at all."
So that's iFixIt's motivation in a nutshel. As to the method, HealthyStuff.org submitted the components of three dozen smartphones to X-ray fluorescence spectrometry. Phones were then rated on a scale of 1-5, with lower scores representing lower levels of toxicity.
Image Credit: iFixIt
The least toxic of the 36 devices examined turned out to be the Motorola Citrus, followed by the iPhone 4S, LG Remarq, Samsung Captivate, iPhone 5, and Samsung Evergreen. A little bit higher up on the chart is Samsung's Galaxy S III, though it isn't terribly far behind the iPhone 5.
Make of all this what you will, but if you ever wondered how "toxic" your smartphone is, there you go.