The Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung are the source of one-third of the world’s tin.
Tin is a crucial component of smartphones. Half of all tin is turned into solder for the electronics industry, eventually making it to tablets and smartphones used around the world.
The Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung are global hubs for tin mining. It has brought the country much trade – and ruin. Because beneath the many profits and bustling international business, the environment and communities of Bangka and Belitung have paid a hefty price for our smartphone usage.
The human cost
Illegal mining conglomerates are employing impoverished locals in the mines, without protection or any safety measures in place. This has endangered the lives of the workers, developed numerous ailments in them, and decreased their life spans.
As per the estimates of the Indonesian Tin Working group, one miner dies every week in these islands. Doctors feel that the high number of malaria cases are due to the hundreds of abandoned mine craters which have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The dangerous and unregulated tin mining has killed and is injuring miners. At the same time, the local soil has turned acidic due to excessive deforestation. This has affected farmers on a massive scale.
The environmental cost
Tin mining is killing the seagrass eaten by turtles and 60-70% of the island’s coral reefs, driving away fish and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods.
The land degradation due to mining has been catastrophic, and so has been the pollution. There are also many cases of excessive water pollution and cutting down of forests. Farmlands have been compromised, and coral reefs are being wiped off the face of the earth.
Pius Ginting, the campaign manager at Friends of the Earth, said: “Tin mining has damaged more than 65 percent of Bangka’s forest areas and more than seventy percent of Bangka’s coral reefs. Fifteen rivers are now contaminated by tin mining waste and access to clean water has become a problem for more than half of Bangka’s population. And mining tin on Bangka is very dangerous: since the beginning of this year, more than sixty miners died, most of them buried in tin mines or trapped underwater.”
Despite the damage to the environment and miners losing their health and their lives in the mines, tin from Indonesia is considered “conflict-free”. This means that there are no trade restrictions on its use.
What can be done?
There are now more than 1.5 billion smartphones in use around the world, slated to grow increasingly in the coming years. This year, a third of the global population will own a smartphone.
There are many things smartphone companies could do to from introducing universal chargers or batteries that can charge in seconds to designing them to be much easier to take apart and repair. Experts say that through innovative design and better reuse of old phones phone companies could cut demand for tin and other raw materials.
At the same time, the Indonesian Government has to take action against illegal mining and ensure the safety of the local miners. The country’s labour laws have to be upheld, and any instance of tin poisoning or other health ailments has to be duly taken care of.
Nearly every smartphone company in the world relies on the Bangka and Belitung islands. To provide for our smartphones, these islands are witnessing disease, natural degradation, health breakdowns, intense poverty, and death.
We should all come together to change the situation for these people and demand that the big corporations take the required measures to force the government to take action.