The smartphone you may be using right now to look at this unique Periodic Table is made up of some 30 elements – over half of which may give cause for concern in the years to come because of increasing scarcity. The issue of element scarcity cannot be stressed enough. With some 10 million smartphones being discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone, we need to carefully look at our tendencies to waste and improperly recycle such items. Unless solutions are provided, we risk seeing many of the natural elements that make up the world around us run out – whether because of limited supplies, their location in conflict areas, or our incapacity to fully recycle them.
Protecting endangered elements needs to be achieved on a number of levels. As individuals, we need to question whether upgrades to our phones and other electronic devices are truly necessary, and we need to make sure that we recycle correctly to avoid old electronics don’t end up in landfill sites or polluting the environment. On a political level, we need to see a greater recognition of the risk element scarcity poses, and moves need to be made to support better recycling practices and an efficient circular economy. Moreover, transparency and ethical issues need to be considered to avoid the abuse of human rights, as well as to allow citizens to make informed choices when purchasing smartphones or other electronics – as many of the elements we require in our electronics are imported from conflict zones.
2019 has been pronounced the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019), and EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, hopes that this unique and thought-provoking Periodic Table will lead to reflection and ultimately, action. Over the next year, we will provide featured articles on specific elements, their endangered status, and the consequences this will have on the world around us.
The Periodic Table is available for free download. Please note that the work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs CC BY-ND.
Support notes, which explain in more detail how the Periodic Table has been designed, and which also include some questions for students, are available for download here.
On 22 January 2019, a video game will be released. Watch this space for all the latest updates!