How mobile phone recycling saves gorilla populations

How mobile phone recycling saves gorilla populations
©iStock/Simoneemanphotography

A new study has assessed the relationship between mobile phone recycling and reducing the decimation of gorilla populations.

The study’s lead author Dr Carla Litchfield says that conflict elements such as gold and coltan can be recovered from mobile phone recycling, which means there is less incentive to mine gorilla habitats for those minerals. In this way, the paper suggests that a reluctance to recycle old mobile phones could be linked to the dramatic decline of gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Recovering gold from mobile phone recycling

Litchfield is also a University of South Australia Conservation Psychologist and Great Ape expert. She said: “For every 30-40 mobile phones that are recycled, on average, one gram of gold can be recovered. 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 add: “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.”

Critically endangered: Graeur gorillas

Recent population estimates of Grauer gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo show a dramatic 73-93 percent decline. Less than 4000 remain in the wild. “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 study authors commented.

A potential solution

Primatologist Dr Jane Goodall  launched the national mobile recycling campaign at Melbourne Zoo in 2009 to educate visitors about the importance of mobile phone recycling for gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By 2014, zoo visitors in Victoria had donated more than 115,000 old mobile phones for recycling as a result.

Dr Litchfield said: “This number may seem a drop in the ocean – representing just 0.01 per cent of the one billion retired phones out there – but when you look at the result in the context of a state of six million people, it is very impressive. Hopefully this campaign can be rolled out globally and then we could really make a difference.”

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