Recycling Cell Phones Can Save Animals

By Mariah Faszczewski, Education Intern
Potter Park Zoological Society

Almost all Americans own cell phones – 95 percent according to the Pew Research Center. With continued advances in technology, people buy new cell phones on average every 14 months. What is happening to the old ones? Many are sold, some are kept in a drawer and very few are recycled responsibly. Less than one percent of the millions of cell phones being used are properly recycled. 

Why does recycling matter? 


Cell phones contain capacitors made from tantalum. Tantalum is extracted from an ore called coltan. Coltan is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo where 80 percent of it is mined to be used in cell phones. Mining is causing the deaths of many animals because of deforestation and poaching for food. There are thousands of species of animals that live in Congo's rainforests. Some animals are only found in Congo like the eastern lowland gorilla. There were approximately 20,000 gorillas found in Congo 20 years ago. Today, there are less than 3,800 in the wild. They are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered, meaning they are at an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Poachers are also killing them for their bushmeat to feed the miners working. The population of eastern lowland gorillas is declining by 5 percent every year. At this rate they will be extinct in 20 years. Although these gorillas are devastatingly affected, so are many other animals. 

Potter Park Zoo's animals 


Potter Park Zoo is home to two species that are also found in Congo – mandrill and eastern bongo. The mandrill is listed by IUCN as vulnerable, while the eastern bongo is critically endangered. Both of these animals, unlike the eastern lowland gorilla, can be found in other parts of Africa. They are affected by deforestation happening to make room for future mining.

Wondering where to recycle? 


In Lansing, cell phones can be recycled at local malls. The Meridian and Lansing Malls both have ecoATM's that give people money for recycling their old cell phones. It is as easy as taking an old cell phone to one of them and putting it inside. This simple act will allow these phones to be reused into other technology and not end up in a landfill. If you are not located in the Lansing area, visit https://www.ecoatm.com to find an ecoATM near you. The Lansing Recycling Center will also pay people for recycling their cell phones. Another place that will accept them is Capital Area Recycing and Trash. 

Reduce the demand for coltan and reusing it when possible can help save animals and their habitats.