Going Ape for Cellphones


cell, phone, recycle, gorilla, congo, e-waste, technologyEver wondered what goes into making a cellphone? Well, the exact ingredients and their quantities are kept a closely guarded secret by cellphone companies, but we pretty much know the basics:

  • Plastic
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Gorillas
  • Coltan

Back up a sec. Gorillas?!

Ok, so not exactly, but a lot of gorillas accidentally end up smack dab in the middle of the cellphone-making process. This has everything to do with the last ingredient on the list – coltan (short for columbite tantalite). Coltan is a rare and valuable mineral used in cellphones, as well as in game consoles and laptops.

A whopping 80% of coltan reserves are found in Africa, and most of those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC as it’s also known. This just also happens to be where some of the world’s last remaining primates live. In fact, within the Congo, the number of Eastern Lowland Gorillas has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain 🙁

Gorillas homes are being invaded so people can mine for coltan, which is actually illegal. But considering this mineral is worth up to $400 for just a kilogram, well, it’s pretty hard to keep people and their shovels away.

Mo People, Mo Problems

With more people in the forests, the more trouble for the gorillas that live there. First, their habitat is being logged and dug up so people can get to this coltan stuff. Once the people are there they can bring human diseases with them, which gorillas can easily catch. Ebola has a 95% mortality rate when it hits a gorilla population! Finally, some people kill gorillas for “bushmeat,” either to feed themselves and other miners, or they sell it in town.

gorilla mom and baby

Demand LESS!

The real problem in all of this is demand. The typical Canadian will dispose of 3 cellphones before they even turn 20! The more cellphones people buy, the more coltan that needs to be mined and the more gorillas that find themselves homeless. The solution then, is pretty simple: demand less. Here are some other ways you can help out gorillas:

Take Action

  • If you or someone you know is in the market for a new cellphone, consider buying a green or eco-cellphone.
  • Write to cellphone companies encouraging them to ensure their raw materials are not coming from countries of conflict, like the DRC.
  • Recycle your old cellphone to reduce demand for coltan, and encourage your parents and friends to do the same. You can recycle your cellphone through the Toronto Zoo or contact your cellphone provider to find out about recycling options like the Bell Blue Box program.
Earth Rangers is a non-profit organization that works to inspire and educate children about the environment. At EarthRangers.com kids can play games, discover amazing facts, meet animal ambassadors and fundraise to protect biodiversity.