How we know so much about electronic gadgets

"All together, the parts in your game device traveled 228,000 miles... and came from about 18 different countries!"

When you ask, "What is this made of?," "Where did all the parts come from?," and "How was it made?," you are asking questions about a product's supply chain. The supply chain includes all the materials, people, technology, companies, activities, information, and transportation involved in the life of a product before someone buys it.

Game devices are made up of computer chips, wires, and other tiny parts made from minerals that come from all over the world. Minerals are like special rocks. Different minerals have different uses, like conducting electricity. The minerals are shipped from the place where they are mined (taken from the ground) to a place where they are processed, and then to the place where they are assembled into the game device.

Companies are very secretive about the parts and supply chains for their specific products, so it is impossible to track the source and path of a specific game device product. Here's a list of common ingredients in a laptop or game device, and the countries they are likely to come from:

  • ABS (plastic, acrylonitrile butadience styrene) - China
  • Aluminum - Canada
  • Antimony - Tajikistan
  • Arsenic - Chile
  • Barium - India
  • Beryllium - California, U.S.
  • Bismuth - Mexico
  • Cadmium - South Africa
  • Cadmium - South Korea
  • Chromium - South Africa
  • Cobalt - Congo
  • Copper - Chile
  • Epoxy resin - China
  • Europium - Canada
  • Ferrite - Russia
  • Flame Retardants - China
  • Gallium - Guinea
  • Germanium - China
  • Glass - Korea
  • Gold - South Africa
  • Indium - Peru
  • Lead - Australia or China
  • Lithium - Zimbabwe
  • Magnesium - China
  • Manganese - South Africa
  • Mercury - Kyrgyzstan
  • Nickel - Australia
  • Niobium - Brazil or Congo
  • Palladium - U.S.
  • PET plastic - China
  • Platinum - South Africa
  • PMMA Poly (methyl methacrylate) - China
  • Polycarbonate - Saudi Arabia
  • Polyoxymethylene - China
  • Polypropylene - China
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride) - China
  • Rhodium - China
  • Ruthenium - Russia
  • SBR elastoner/styrene butadiene - China
  • Selenium - Japan
  • Silicon - Brazil
  • Silver - Peru
  • Steel - Japan
  • Steel - Russia
  • Tantalum - Brazil or Congo
  • Terbium - China
  • Tin - Indonesia
  • Titanium - Australia
  • Vanadium - Kazakhstan
  • Yttrium - China

Check out these Web sites. (That's how we learned all of this!):

"That was a trick question. All three metals are present [titanium, gold, mercury]... also steel, copper, lead, and arsenic!"

Electronics contain toxic materials, including chemicals that cause cancer (carcinogens), chemicals that hurt our brains (neurotoxins), and other dangerous substances. (See "All together, the parts in your game device traveled 228,000 miles." for a list of materials commonly found in electronic devices.) When these chemicals are packaged and left safely inside a game device, they will not hurt you. The danger comes when these game devices are thrown away, or broken apart and then thrown away. The chemicals then become part of the landfill or environment.

Check out these Web sites. (That's how we learned all of this!):

"About forty million per year."

According to Nintendo Sales Reports, 44.6 million GameBoys were sold in America from 1989 to 2008. ("Consolidated Sales Reports by Region" – July 30, 2008).

"That's 'cause it's VERY hard to recycle them."

Recycling is always harder when objects are made up of many different parts or components. The different parts have to be separated out before they can be reused. In a game device, most of the parts can't be used again. However, there are small amounts of valuable metals, like copper or gold that can be used again. Separating them out, though, is very difficult and expensive, and potentially dangerous for the people who work at recycling facilities as they might be exposed to toxic minerals, like mercury, lead, or arsenic.

Only about 12-13% of electronic waste in the U.S. is recycled, and 80% of this is exported (taken away) to other countries, where it is usually thrown away in unsafe ways. The rest ends up in landfills or incinerators in the U.S., where the dangerous metals are eventually released into the environment.

Check out these Web sites. (That's how we learned all of this!):