Periodic table to highlight scarcity of elements used in mobile phones

Chemical elements which make up everyday devices such as smartphones and TVs have been included in an “endangered list”.

Scientists from the University of St Andrews have helped to develop a periodic table which highlights the scarcity of the 90 natural elements, many of which are used in the production of popular phones.

The work was carried out as part of a project by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), which represents more than 160,000 chemists from more than 40 member societies and other chemistry-related organisations

The modernised periodic table was designed to mark the 150th anniversary of its creation in 1869.

It is estimated that about 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone.

The modernised periodic table
The updated periodic table will be launched on Tuesday at the European Parliament (PA/University of St Andrews)

Smartphones are made up of around 30 elements and scientists have raised concerns that there will be an increasing scarcity due to limited supplies, elements being located in conflict areas and an incapacity to fully recycle.

The table will be launched at the European Parliament on Tuesday by Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody.

The event will also highlight the discovery of the oldest-known wallchart of the periodic table, discovered last year at the University of St Andrews.

Professor David Cole-Hamilton, emeritus professor in chemistry at St Andrews, said people should avoid changing their phones every few years.

World’s oldest periodic table
What is believed to be the world’s oldest periodic table was found at the University of St Andrews (University of St Andrews/PA)

Prof Cole-Hamilton said: “It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements.

“There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

“Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?”

Ms Stihler said: “As we mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, it’s fascinating to see it updated for the 21st century.

“It’s also deeply worrying to see how many elements are on the endangered list, including those which make up mobile phones.

“It is a lesson to us all to care for the world around us, as these naturally occurring elements won’t last forever unless we increase global recycling rates and governments introduce a genuine circular economy.”

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