Are you among the 400 million people around the world who have relegated an old mobile phone to the top drawer in the past year?
Do you realise your reluctance to recycle that discarded phone could be linked to the dramatic decline of gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
The link between hoarding disused mobile phones and the decimation of Grauer gorilla habitats is explored in a paper published recently.
The two organisations evaluated the first six years of the ongoing ‘They’re Calling On You” mobile phone recycling program run by Zoos Victoria, as part of a national campaign operating in Australian zoos.
As part of the program, zoo visitors and the broader community were educated about the value of recycling discarded phones to extract special metals used in their construction – the same metals which are being mined in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, not only destroying gorilla habitats but also funding wars and human rights abuses.
“For every 30-40 mobile phones that are recycled, on average, one gram of gold can be recovered,” Dr Litchfield says. “Just as mobile phone sales are soaring, and gold content is increasing in some smartphones, natural sources of gold are expected to run out by 2030.”
The authors point out the barriers to recycling used phones, including lack of e-waste recycling points in many countries, the secrecy around the phones’ mineral composition, privacy concerns around accessing old data, and just plain hoarding.
In Germany, by 2035 it is predicted that more than 8000 tonnes of precious metals will lie in unrecycled mobile and smartphones, and in China, by 2025 an estimated nine tonnes of gold, 15 tonnes of silver and 3100 tonnes of copper will also be out of the supply loop in 0.35 billion unrecycled phones.
“Hoarding is problematic since precious metals are not extracted and returned to the circular economy, creating the need to mine these metals in wilderness areas.
“The other issue is that if people do discard their old phones, must dispose of them in their household waste, ending up in a landfill, where they leach toxic metals.”
Recent population estimates of Grauer gorillas in the DRC show a dramatic 73-93 per cent decline, with less than 4000 remaining in the wild and the species now listed as Critically Endangered.
By 2014, zoo visitors in Victoria had donated more than 115,000 old mobile phones for recycling as a result of the social marketing initiative.