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Count the cost of Apple's September sell

  • 19 September 2016


You've probably heard about the 'human cost' of producing iPhones. The suicide rates at the factories in China where they're produced. The 'conflict minerals' (minerals for which the supply or purchase contributes to conflicts in developing countries) that Apple and other tech companies have used.

And then there's what happens after consumption. Once upon a time a phone, like a decent computer or TV, lasted you five or more years. Multinational companies looking to up the ante have made that a thing of the past now, and if you're caught with a five year old phone you better have a good explanation.

Apple has been in hot water for years about the ethics of not only the manufacture of their devices but the way they trap people into using exclusively their products. Yet iPhone fans gleefully fork out more money every September when the next version is ceremoniously revealed.

It's a formidable fad, with Apple selling a reported 74.5 million iPhones during the first quarter of 2015. Some estimates put the total number of iPhones bought worldwide at around a billion.

Consumers line up or wait on hold for hours to make sure they get the right type and colour — and be the first to have it. All that to get that coveted 'new phone feeling', as one of Telstra's latest phone plans puts it.

Every year this circus happens. It's become so normalised, most of us hardly blink an eye. How many people ask themselves whether the upgrades in the technology are worth getting a new phone every year? More importantly, how many people question the real-world costs that their purchase entails?

Several years ago senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural Resources Defence Council, Allen Hershkowitz, told the US 60 Minutes about the toxic chemicals contained in the e-waste that we produce at ever-increasing rates.

'Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers,' he said. 'The problem with e-waste is that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide. We throw out about 130,000 computers every day in the United States.'


"Greenpeace states that manufacturers need to stop using hazardous materials in production. They claim that safer alternatives already exist. In order for the market to respond to this call, more of us need to add our voices."


He also notes that 100 million