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Gadgets garbage and gorillas

Gadgets garbage and gorillas



Australia is one of the top countries in the world in terms of spending on communication and IT as a percentage of income. In short, we love spending money on gadgets. It’s out with the old and in with the new, with mobile phone users changing handsets on average every one-and-a-half to two years.

Believe it or not, this is highly relevant to the wellbeing of gorillas in Africa. To understand where gorillas come in you have to look at the life story of gadgets. Today we ask where do your mobile phones come from, where do they go when they die, and what on earth does this have to do with gorillas?

Mobile phones are complex devices with many different components made from a wide range of materials. A typical mobile phone is made from an assortment of plastics, ceramics, copper and copper compounds, iron, nickel and its compounds, zinc and its compounds, silver, flame retardants, and even gold. In fact recycling 50,000 mobile phones reportedly yields one-and-a-half kilograms of gold. Other materials used that are under 1% by weight include tin, lead, cobalt, aluminium, tungsten, antimony, manganese, lithium, phosphorous, beryllium, palladium, and tantalum. It’s this tantalum that brings us closer to the gorillas in question.

Tantalum is a rare, hard blue-grey chemical element. An estimated 64% to 80% of the world’s coltan reserves are in the Congo, right in the midst of natural gorilla habitat. Coltan mining, trade and smuggling has been a major contributor to war and conflict in the Congo, and this conflict and mining in habitat areas, along with poaching and disease, are having a major impact on gorillas, destroying their forest habitats and threatening the survival of the species.

Recycling programs are being developed for many types of e-waste, both to prevent pollution and to recover still functional second-hand devices or the useful and valuable component materials such as rare metals. Re-use and recycling programs are already established in Australia for computers, toner and ink cartridges, and mobile phones. With an estimated 14 to 16 million inactive mobile phones stored in cupboards or drawers around the country, the real challenge is getting people to actually use these programs.

Think of the gorillas in the Congo and answer the call to recycle your old mobile phones.

Yours in Design,

Read more about it at www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2009/2749087.htm
More information on recycling your mobile www.wwf.org.au/act/takeaction/recycle-your-mobile/

Tanya Heading About the author
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