You’re probably wondering how can recycling your old mobile phone help save gorillas in the wild. What does the survival or extinction of the gorilla, more specifically the Eastern Lowland gorillas have to do with recycling that old mobile phone lying in your drawer. The answer to these questions, in a single word is ‘Coltan.’ The mining of this mineral alone has led to the dwindling number of East Lowland gorillas. And why is coltan being mined – to feed the consumer’s endless hunger for the latest mobile phones and electronic gadgets. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Recycling e-waste and mobile phones can actually help avoid the extinction of eastern lowland gorilla. Just read through to find out more.

E-Waste Recycling: What is Coltan?

Columbite-tantalite, which is more commonly known as coltan is a metallic ore consisting of tanatalum and niobium. This metallic ore is found primarily in the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is responsible for about 80 percent of the world’s coltan supply.  When coltan is refined, it turns into a heat resistant powder with electric charge storing capabilities, which is why it is used for manufacturing capacitors for electronic devices like mobile phones, laptops, DVD players and televisions.

Coltan Mining vs. Gorillas

The natural habitat of the eastern lowland gorilla is in the lowlands and the Albertine Rift forests in eastern Congo (DRC). Until the mid 1990s, the eastern lowland gorilla population was somewhere around 17,000. While there are no current population estimates due to the lack of a census and the unknown impact of the continuing civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to WWF, during the last few years, the population of these gorillas has gone down by 80 to 90 percent. The reasons for this decline in population are various, but all of them are directly or indirectly related to coltan mining.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation besieged by a brutal civil war with all involved groups battling it out for power and territory. Fueled by the boom in technology and the mobile phone market and subsequent rise in worldwide coltan demand, groups on both sides of the war have used coltan for funding their military mayhem. Caught in the mindless coltan mining is the eastern lowland gorilla. The Kahuzi Biega National Park, the home of the gorilla, is part of the main region where coltan is mined. Coltan mining involves clear cutting, where all vegetation is cleared away to gain easier access to the ore. This clearing away of vegetation has resulted in loss of habitat as well as food sources for gorillas, which has put their population in a precarious situation. The main reason of their dwindling population however, is the illegal bush meat trade. The war along with the poverty and starvation, have driven rebels and miners to hunt down gorillas as well as other endangered species for food. If this unabashed coltan mining continues to slaughter gorillas, it won’t be long enough before they become extinct.

The thing is we can actually do a lot to put an end to this out of control mining and help save these gorillas from extinction.

Recycling E-waste and Mobile Phones

Coltan and other minerals that are used for manufacturing cell phones and other electronic components can be recycled. Older mobile phones and electronics instead of being dumped in landfills and junkyards, can be processed using the right e-waste management techniques, after which it can be components like coltan can be extracted, recycled and reused. Also, electronics which aren’t at their end of life stage can be refurbished and resold. These measures can go a long way in helping reduce the demand of coltan.

However, it is us, the consumers, who have to play an active role here. With new mobile phones being launched in the market every other day, more and more old mobile phones keep becoming obsolete and are pushed into landfills or informal recycling plants, which further worsens the situation by releasing toxic electronic components into the eco-system. What we as responsible consumers must do is to ensure that our older mobile phones and gadgets are recycled properly at established e-waste recycling facilities.

So don’t throw away that old mobile phone just yet! Recycle it! That little bit of coltan in your old cell phone can be recycled and reused, and help save the eastern lowland gorilla from extinction.