Australia Answers The Call for gorilla conservation

Recently I visited the Sustainability Office at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), to talk to students and staff about recycling.

Electronic technology is created out of a mineral called coltan, which is mined right in the heart of mountain gorilla habitat – upon which not only gorillas, but millions of people in local communities depend. Answer The Call, a mobile phone recycling initiative operated in partnership with Australia Zoo and Aussie Recycling Program (ARP), aims to diminish the demand for coltan by reusing up to 75% of mobile phone components. All money raised from collecting old mobile phones goes directly to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, of which Fauna & Flora International is a founding and coalition member.

FFI Answering the Call at UNSW. Credit: FFI

Most mobile phone recycling programs are industry driven, and as such handsets are recycled but not re-used. In fact, most phones less than five years old can be completely re-used! In addition, 70-75% of the remainder have valuable parts which themselves can be reused. Any ‘left over’ parts are then recycled, which also decreases rubbish to landfill. One billion handsets were made last year and demand for the latest gadgets is only increasing.

There are serious health risks associated with the incorrect and irresponsible disposal of mobile phones. Although everything in a mobile phone is solid-state (i.e. there are no moving parts or liquids that can be released in normal use) they do contain concentrations of potentially hazardous substances including cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic, antimony, beryllium, and copper. These metals are known as persistent, meaning they do not degrade in the environment. They are also bioaccumulative, meaning they build up in fatty tissue, and so can reach toxic levels over time. If any of these metals leak into the environment, they can leach into waterways, contaminate soils and enter the food chain.

Jose Harnett at UNSW. Credit: FFI

UNSW has recently implemented several innovative initiatives designed to significantly reduce rubbish to landfill. Every office comes equipped with non-leach battery collecting receptacles, and boxes for paper and cardboard. In fact, UNSW sell their paper and cardboard back to recycling companies, turning a profit for the university! Keep Cups are on sale everywhere, which aim to reduce use of non-recyclable coffee cups, and sustainability forums are held regularly (and well attended!) to get the message out.

Saving animals, preserving resources and conserving habitat is directly linked to saving humankind. Biodiversity conservation and humanitarian needs are basically one and the same, completely dependent on each other. Saving forests from decimation not only preserves the homes of many species, but also the livelihoods of local communities who depend on ecosystems services.