Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mobile phones vs. Great Apes

Can’t wait to get a new iPhone 5? Or maybe just need to upgrade from your current old phone? Well you might as well just kill a gorilla or a chimpanzee? Have I gone mad? Some might say so, but there is a very close link between gorillas and chimpanzees and the production of mobile phones. Each time another mobile phone is produced it may be contributing to the destruction of the habitat of gorillas, bonobos (a type of chimp), forest elephants, otters and many more species of animals.

Over a billion phones have been sold each year since 2006. Wireless Intelligence claims that there is currently over five billion mobile phones in use around the world and that number should reach six billion in 2012. With the average person upgrading their phone every 14 months it is predicted that there are about 500 million old phones laying around in people’s junk drawers.

A cell phone is made up of many materials being about 40% metals, 40% plastics, and 20% ceramics and trace materials. The circuit board is made out of a variety of metals including copper, gold, lead, nickel, zinc, beryllium, tantalum and one in particular that is of interest and has a rather sinister story. Columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short, is a metallic ore that, when refined, becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. In mobile phones it is used to regulate the current flow within a mobile’s circuit board. One of the main places where coltan is mined from is the Dominican Republic of Congo and the Congo River Basin (containing the second largest rainforest in the world).

Since the DR Congo’s independence in the 60’s the country has been in a continual state of civil war as varying parties battle over the country's rich resources (I found BBC News provides a great overview. Click here to see the article). The fighting has led directly and non-directly to over three million people being killed. Amongst the unrest, illegal mining groups have been able to sneak into protected areas and mine by hand using groups of men digging basins in streams, scraping away dirt to get to the muddy coltan underneath.

These illegal mining groups are capitalising on the mobile phone boom but the coltan mining industry in this region has led to ongoing destruction of the as well as the slaughter of great apes for the illegal bushmeat trade. The United Nation’s Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight national parks in the Congo has declined by 90% over the past five years. Now there are only two to four thousand left in the wild and less than 50 in zoos.

It’s easy for us in the Western world to look at the situation and feel that there is nothing we can do. However that is definitely not the case! Mobile phones can be recycled. This reduces the demand for coltan as well as reduces the amount of mobile phones in landfill leaking toxic elements such as arsenic and lead.

There are many companies and organisations coordinating the recycling of mobile phones. Some offer free postage while others have drop off points. I have found most Zoos have drop off boxes. Below is a list of some. Please feel free to message me more that you know of.

This weekend I challenge you to take five minutes to dig up any old mobile phones and get them to an organisation that will have them recycled. By doing so you are helping save the gorillas and other animals of central Africa no matter where you are in the world.

Global - WWF
Click here for information about various recycling drop off points.

Australia - The Jane Goodall Institute
Click here for a Reply Paid Label for individuals.
Click here for schools and businesses who are interested in organising a collection.

USA - The E.P.A.
Click here for a list of organisations participating in the recycling of mobiles and other electronic devices.

Canada - Recycle My Cell
Click here to be redirected to a directory of drop off points around Canada.

United Kingdom - Recycling Appeal
Click here to be redirected to their site.

Ireland - Recycling Appeal
Click here to be redirected to their site.

Other Related Information
- Gorillas are so closely related to humans that the human birth control pill is used by zoos to control breeding in gorillas.
- On 31st May 2011, the World Health Organization confirmed that mobile phone use may represent a long-term health risk, classifying mobile phone radiation as a "carcinogenic hazard" and "possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
- Like your honey? There have findings that cell phone radiation may be negatively affecting honeybees, but the results have been disputed.

Here is an old interview I did with Rachel Lawry at Melbourne Zoo a few years ago. Click here to listen.

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