Year 10 Geography – Environmental Challenges
24 May 2018

Coltan Mining, Gorillas and Recycling of Mobile Phones

For the clear majority of people in Australia phones are a basic part of life. Phones keep us in constant contact with the people around us, they help us find all the worlds knowledge at the touch of a fingertip, they remind us where to go and how to get there. They are a staple of modern life, but they come with a dark underbelly. To make the heat resistant capacitor that helps to power your phone, Tantalum powder needs to be created. To make this powder a material known as Coltan Ore must be mined. 80% of the worlds reserve of Coltan comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the mining of Coltan is illegal and is carried out using cheap child labor. These mines, populated by children, are built in the vital rainforest habitat of gorillas.

These beautiful, powerful animals are beloved by many, but they are in danger of extinction. Eastern Lowland Gorillas, a species of gorilla in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are classified as critically endangered. They are being affected by the mining of Coltan in the region not only because they are losing habitat but also because the mining of coltan helps to fuel the conflict in the region. Coltan is what is known as a blood mineral, a mineral that causes war, and it is perpetuating a 24-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soldiers fighting in the eastern rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are known to kill and eat Gorillas as a form of bush meat and trade their young as pets, but what can we do? Our phones are such an integral part of life, how can we be expected to forgo them to help both the people and animals of another continent?

Despite the growing consequences that mining coltan and other minerals is having on the surrounding environment, and thus the fauna residing within, you can make the right call and help save the Eastern Lowland Gorilla. Zoo’s Victoria initiative, ‘They’re Calling on You’ is encouraging Australians to donate their old or damaged phones to be recycled. Not only is this campaign vital to shaping the awareness for this issue, but consistently raise much needed funds used for conservation and their current project aims to reduce the demand for conflict minerals and hopefully remove the need for continued mining. Partnered with Gorilla Doctors, who are hoping to eliminate extinction through saving one species at a time, all proceeds that result from the resale and refurbishment of donated mobile phones, will assist Gorilla Doctors, and allow them to continue their important work.

Old mobile phones can be recycled by bringing them to the Senior School reception where there is a collection box, which when full will be picked up by Zoo’s Victoria, or if you are visiting any of the three Victorian Zoos you can place them in the bins at the information desks at these locations.

So, make the right call to stop your phone from entering landfill, prevent coltan mining, reduce the use of conflict minerals and hopefully save a species.

Tim Clemens