Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recycling Electronics and Saving Gorillas

Green Holiday Action #16 has a global impact. This is from my friend Laurel who has been working on gorilla conservation:

Lots of folks get new electronics like cell phones as gifts this time of year. Perhaps you could remind them not to throw away their old cell phones, DVD players, GPS's or other electronics that contain coltan and other minerals. They can recycle them instead. - Laurel

(photos courtesy of Laurel Colton)

What does recycling your cell phone or MP3 player have to do with gorillas, African forests and the welfare of millions of people?

Inside your cell phone, personal computer and a variety of small electronic items there are capacitors coated in special minerals with a high tolerance for heat. These minerals reduce the transferal of heat within your appliance. What does this have to do with gorillas? Every resource comes from somewhere.

Columbite and tantalite are two of these rare minerals. In
processed form, they may be listed as tantalum on a label. The ore they are refined from goes by the shortened name coltan. Coltan is found primarily in Australia and central Africa. Legal mining in Australia has all but shut down because of the illegal mining in the Congo which is providing artificially inexpensive coltan.

Very much like the blood diamond situation, coltan mining attracts militaries and war lords who use the profits from these precious minerals to fund their activities. Coltan is mined in open pits, destroying normal vegetation. Some of the major mining locations are within previously protected areas like Kahuzi-Biega National Park. This U.N. World Heritage Site is home to one of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas. With illegal mining activity comes additional cutting down of the forest for building and firewood. Armed parties have driven off
park employees and threaten wildlife. The thousands of people digging the minerals require food; protected animals, including gorillas, are hunted for human food. Many of the people working in the mines are children or captives.

We can all play a role in stopping this habitat destruction and human tragedy. These minerals, as well as gold and silver, can all be collected from electronic devices and reused through recycling.

Many cell phone companies will take back your old phone for recycling, but you have to ASK.
Find out more about recycling your cell phone or electronics at and watch the video The Secret Life of Cell Phones

The Enough! Project is working to increase understanding of this issue. Just like with blood diamonds, the worst of the trade can be stopped if major corporations are required to purchase tantalum from legal sources. The Congo Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 (HR 4128) is making its way through Congress, you can tell your elected officials you support this legislation through the Enough Project's Action Page

2009 has been the Year of the Gorilla. If you are giving an electronic gift this season, or if you receive one, don't throw away that old device.

Help yourself, the gorilla and the planet by recycling old cell phones and electronics.

For more on coltan mining in Congo:

Go to the FREE screening of Return to Virunga: The Battle to Save the Mountain Gorillas with film maker Stefan Lovgren this Saturday, Dec. 19 at 3:30 PM at:

Hasting's Branch Library 3325 East Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena
Please RSVP to:

Watch the video from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting VIDEO

Coltan mining facts from the Jane Goodall Institute

Support Gorilla Conservation


Anonymous said...


You passed along some good information for your readers.

We have to get away from feel-good conservation and get to the heart of the matter. Coltan exploitation will not stop simply by raising money and sending it to conservation programs. Legislation and political will-which includes western countries using political pressure on countries that exploit DR Congo- is what has to occur for change in DRC. That's not to say DR Congo is innocent of any wrong doing. They must remove corruption from within as well.

As long as militia continues to have the freedom to do as they will, the rape, murder, looting etc. will continue.

Supporting the park guards is still important but it is only part of what must be done to rid DR Congo and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park of combatants.

Rick Murphy
Gorilla Conservation
DR Congo

Maura Youngman said...

Hi Keri,

Great to see this article up here, Keri. You've provided a wonderfully concise breakdown of a pressing global issue we work hard at the Pulitzer Center to get people to hear and understand.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is one of the many talented individuals we've had the opportunity to work with at the Pulitzer Center, and was one of our first grantees back in 2007. Since then, we've continued to support quality journalism around the world. You may be interested in our a few of our current projects, including our COP15: Dispatches from Copenhagen blog up as part of a collaborative news group with GristTV, Mother Jones, The Nation,, and several others. (Check out the blog at:

You may also be interested in "Heat of the Moment," the Pulitzer Center's latest online multi-media project chroncling the human face of climate change around the world.

Take a look at:

Again, thank you for this entry.

All best,

Maura Youngman
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
myoungman at

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