At a recent family function, I pulled out my cell phone to answer a text message. My family members were appalled — not because I was being rude and answering a text message, but because I have an “old” cell phone.
The average cell phone owner replaces their phone every two years. My phone is older than that, and I really do need to get a new one to access upgraded features. As I shop for the latest and greatest in cell phone technology, I have to ask myself what do I actually need and why?
Over the years, I have owned my fair share of cell phones and now they are packed away in the back of my closet. There is no trade-in or resale value for these old phones, nor are they are old enough to be placed in a museum! However, these phones can be easily recycled to reclaim the precious metals and minerals inside.
One key mineral found in all cell phones and most electronics is Columbite-tantalie, which is more commonly called “coltan.” Coltan is used as a heat conductor in circuit boards.
With the increased demand for cell phones worldwide, the value of coltan has increased dramatically. Of all the coltan used in the world, only 20% comes from recycled sources; the rest is virgin mined material. While coltan is found in various parts of the world, the largest deposit is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mining for coltan has created inhumane conditions for the people of DRC. The mining of coltan could provide miners a decent monthly wage of US$200; however, the miners are often robbed and women and children have also been subjected to acts of violence. Unregulated mining has led to deforestation which has contributed to the future endangerment of animals like the lowland gorilla.
Organizations are working to create awareness for these issues. No Blood In My Cell Phone was launched in Europe, as well as a number of charities that work to help women and children victimized as a result of coltan mining.
We as consumers must do our part.
We should be reducing, reusing and recycling electronic products like cell phones we no longer need. When it comes to the end life of electronics, Ontario Electronic Stewardship oversees the responsible reuse and recycling in Ontario. In Halton, there are many ways to recycle cell phones: at the Halton Waste Management Site, a Special Waste Drop-off Day or with one of our Take It Back! Halton partners.
It’s amazing to think that our purchasing choices here in Canada impact people in other parts of the world. When trading up to the latest and greatest in electronic gadgetry, think about the potential consequences.
Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) is an industry trade organization that addresses environmental and global policy issues. Check ITI to determine if the company you are purchasing from is a member, and therefore committed to ethically sourcing their materials.