We’ve all done it. You cycle through phone after phone on one of those 24 month plans, and then when the time is up you start up your new phone, put the old phone in a drawer and think “I’ll definitely transfer all the data from that, do a factory reset, and dispose of it correctly.”
But then it sits there.
And sits there.
And you forget about it. Probably forever.
(Or, at least, I hope we’ve all done this, because otherwise my hoarding is worse than I thought!)
Well, I remembered. I went into the drawer where such things tend to get dumped and I found two long forgotten phones.
I also found this phone recycling bag, part of the proceeds of which go towards this Gorilla Doctors organisation. It got me thinking; what exactly is the connection between mobile phones and gorillas?
The ABC released this article recently detailing the plight of the Eastern gorilla, the largest of the great apes, which is now critically endangered, along with its cousin the Western gorilla. The article points to the Rwandan genocide turning refugees to seek safety in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and thus disrupting the natural habitat of the gorillas, as one of the major contributors to their decline.
There is, however, another avenue for their troubles, and if you follow the chain back to its source, you will find the answer inside your phone.
Coltan, also known as columbite-tantalite, is a mineral source of the element tantalum, which is important in making capacitors in electronics. Unfortunately, coltan mining destroys the forest habitat which the gorillas need to live. Coltan mining has also been linked to providing monetary aid to the ongoing war and political unrest in DRC and neighbouring countries.
Perhaps the most disturbing is that the displacement of local people and the rise in poverty has led to a thriving trade in ‘bushmeat’, which has, in turn, led hunters to target gorillas in order to sell their meat to miners and other people living in the region.
Yes, you read that correctly. One of the dangers faced by gorillas is that people are eating them.
It turns out tracking down where exactly the coltan has come from is quite difficult. While it is estimated that up to 80% of the world’s coltan resources may be in DRC, much of the subsequent tantalum is exported from Rwanda, and from there the supply chain becomes mixed and it is difficult to trace origins.
So what can you do to help? Well, by recycling your mobile phones (and other electronics) the tantalum can be recovered, and the demand for more raw materials should be reduced. Charities may also be able to make money from recycling other parts of the phones, or even refurbishing them, and thus Gorilla Doctors and similar groups are supported in their conservation effort as well.