I first heard about Zoo New England’s recycling program “Gorillas on the Line” when an email with the subject heading “Help us collect used phones to protect gorilla habitats” caught my eye. The idea behind this program is that by recycling phones and other small electronics, we can help protect the gorillas that live in habitats where coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, is being mined. According to Zoo New England, “...coltan is a critical component of cell phones and other small electronics, and as a result of mining for coltan, critical gorilla habitat has been destroyed”.
Mining coltan to help power our personal devices has ongoing and far reaching social and environmental impacts. Local people in Central African countries are risking their lives in exchange for the high selling prices that mined coltan can be sold for. According to a recent report by CNBC, people already living in poverty are further exploited by local armed groups who require a tax to be paid in order to mine for coltan. One well regarded NGO administering aid to people in this region is Doctors Without Borders. More information about their important work can be found on the Doctors Without Borders website.
By recycling our old devices, we can reduce the demand for coltan. Additionally, Zoo New England receives revenue from the collected devices. Eco-Cell partners with zoos and will re-sell the phones and/or their parts to vendors if materials are still viable, and if they’re not they get recycled. The zoos get a portion of the revenue from those sales. According to their website, Eco-Cell collected 21,000 phones last year. Proceeds from the donated devices support the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ “Gorilla SAFE” initiative. SAFE is a collaborative effort to restore healthy populations of specific endangered species.
Zoo New England makes it easy to participate, by providing a toolkit that includes flyers, graphics, and social media posts. The Gorillas on the Line Coordinator, Caitlin McCartan, sends regular updates on the drive with facts about gorillas to share. Last week she shared an email about how gorillas are an “umbrella species” meaning that protecting them helps to protect climate, forests, biodiversity, and more. Protecting gorilla habitat helps to guard against climate change, because according to Zoo New England “8% of the world’s primary forests are found in central Africa. The Congo Basin, which is home to Grauer’s and Mountain gorillas, is the second largest contiguous forest in the world. The forests here are important carbon sinks, helping to hold carbon and release oxygen back into our atmosphere. Gorilla and forest conservation also provides an important shield against climate change.”
As a lifelong lover of animals, I feel very much at home working in Westhampton–a town with animal lovers of all ages. I had a feeling that we would get a good response to an initiative that not only makes it easy for people to recycle old, unwanted devices, but also supports gorilla habitat conservation. I’m happy to report that we have collected 26 devices and 15 chargers to date. Also, Zoo New England just announced that they will collect devices through September, so there is still time to participate.
A few important things to know about participating in Gorillas on the Line are that larger electronics are not accepted, devices should be restored to factory settings before being donated, and Zoo New England provides a shipping label after the library sends the weight of the parcel, so there is no cost to the library to participate.
The Gorillas on the Line cell phone recycling program, makes people curious about where the materials that make up the devices of our daily life come from. It encourages us to prolong the life of materials mined from the earth. I hope it also sparks curiosity about the magnificent and unique creatures, such as gorillas, that we share this earth with.