Mobile phone parts are made from a combination of rare earth elements and plastics. Rare earth elements are used to create the glass display, magnets in speakers, headphones and vibrating motors in cell phones, according to PBS.
Rare earth elements are used in nearly all consumer electronics, but are difficult to mine because they need to be separated from surrounding rock and from one another. In addition to rare metals such as yttrium and scandium, cell phones also use common materials such as copper, gold, palladium and platinum. The exterior of mobile devices is made from polycarbonate, which has a high impact resistance, relatively good temperature resistance and surface flexibility. Aluminum and magnesium are also used in the outer casing of mobile phones to protect internal components from damage.
Extracting the elements required to make a cell phone is an energy intensive task that generates a lot of pollution and waste. According to Greeniacs, more than 220 pounds of mine waste is generated to extract the gold for a circuit board of just one cell phone. Toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury and polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) are also common in some mobile phones, which poses a risk to the environment once a mobile phone is disposed.