Most smartphones today would not exist without natural resources extracted from endangered habitats such as those of the Congo Basin. That is because the metals and minerals that make them work are very rare and can be found primarily in this region – an area with one of the largest intact populations of wild chimpanzees. In an effort to control the wealth brought in from these minerals, over five million people have died. In order to protect the Congo Basin’s people and its chimpanzees, we as consumers must understand the source of our cell phone’s conflict minerals and how we can take action, such as recycling our old cell phones, to end the cycle of destruction and violence.
Most cell phones and other electronic devices are made using four crucial materials extracted from mines in the Congo Basin: gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum (or coltan). While some companies strive to source their materials ethically, corruption and conflict muddle the process. In order to extract these minerals, miners cut down forests, destroying chimpanzee habitat and creating inroads for illegal miners, loggers and poachers, further threatening chimpanzee survival.
Though the mining process provides livelihoods for people, it is not a sustainable way to make a living, innocent civilians and wildlife alike are hurt in the process. Current U.S. legislation requires companies to trace and audit their supply lines in order to prevent their funding of these atrocities in eastern Congo. But so long as there is a demand for our increasingly disposable gadgets, people will continue to be motivated to fight for control over the precious natural resources that make them possible.
Individuals can take action to stand up for the people and wildlife at risk in the Congo Basin. When each new electronic purchase replaces an old device, and that device gets thrown away, all of the valuable materials in them go to waste. Your old, broken cell phone can be recycled though, and the gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum in it can be reused in future devices. Recycling means that even as demand for electronics increases, demand for conflict minerals does not have to rise.
To learn more about how you can recycle your old electronics read about Call to Action: JGI’s International Mobile Phone Recycling Day coming up on January 26, 2016. We hope you are inspired to take action.