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Save the Earth one Cell Phone At a Time

By Staff | Apr 8, 2008

Consumers often overlook the impact of cell phone production on the environment. Until the past few years, the truth about cell phone components and the effect of those ingredients on the areas from which they’re derived, hasn’t been told.

So why are cell phones so detrimental to the environment? First of all, they contain substances known as Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic Chemicals (PBTs). These PBTs, according to eco-cell.org, include arsenic, beryllium and lead, among others. When cell phones enter our waste systems, these toxic metals and chemicals pose a heavy threat to our environment.

Of course cell phones aren’t the only culprit — electronics in general pose severe environmental threats. However, cell phones, on average, are replaced every 14-18 months, which is a soaring rate of replacement. All of these do not enter the waste system — in fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 75 percent are typically stored in the owners’ homes and a mere 5 percent are recycled. The remaining 20 percent wreak environmental havoc, along with other electronics. The EPA also says it’s estimated a whopping 130 million cell phones will go out of this year alone — take the average 20 percent that meander their way into our land fills and we have approximately 26 million cell phones entering our landfills. This seems redundant considering recycling options; however that can be said for every recyclable that consumes landfill space.

Not only are cell phones accused of their poisonous impact on our environment, they’re also being held responsible for the potential extinction of gorillas in Africa.

When I first read of the connection between the heightening gorilla endangerment in Africa and cell phone manufacturing, I semi-giggled, partly because there is always some obscure connection between a product or process and a seemingly unrelated victim. Of course everything has a cause and effect relationship, but often times these relationships are hyped up and exaggerated. People choose a cause and alter their lifestyles accordingly yet ignore the other footprints they leave in convenient instances. Everything we do has an impact on the environment — and in terms of manufacturing and production, this impact is almost always negative; however, we tend to overlook those things we find convenient (or we’re ignorant of). For instance, 25 percent of the Western world’s pharmaceuticals are extracted from ingredients found in Latin American rainforests. Yet we tend to argue against deforestation primarily in instances of development of commercial farming land. Pharmaceuticals are convenient.

After a bit of research, I must say, my semi-giggle turned into a more-than-subtle convincing of the alleged connection. Turns out, a metallic ore contained in cell phones — coltan — is mined only in the remote forests of Congo, the home to the quickly dissipating lowland gorillas. Because of the increased value of coltan (and because 80 percent of the world’s coltan is found in the Republic of Congo’s protected parks), illegal mining has become increasingly common — alongside the increasing commonness of cell phones in the past 10 years. Mining alone serves as a disturbance to the habit, but more commonly, the animals are illegally poached to gain access to the lands.

Of course, coltan mining isn’t the only perpetrator in continuing gorilla endangerment. Gorillas are also commonly hunted for the illegal bush-meat trade and warfare in Congo is increasingly common.

It’s superfluous to strictly blame cell phone use for these incidents; however, recycling your cell phone through an organization like Eco-Cell is a simple way to get involved and make a small difference. Cell phones that cannot be refurbished and donated to selected, local organizations — specifically mentioned on the Eco-Cell Web site are hospital users to make emergency calls to 911. Those that are unusable are recycled “under strict EPA guidelines by certified recyclers.”

I challenge all of you to dig in your old drawers and put to good use those old cell phones you have laying around. I have two within eyesight and I’m sure most of you have at least one. If you visit www.eco-cell.org, free shipping packaging can be requested if at least five cell phones are being donated. Or if you’d like, drop off any old cell phones and cell phone accessories you may have at the Graffiti office on Juliana Street in Parkersburg or at the Marietta Brewing Company on Front Street in Marietta and I’ll personally see to it that they are sent directly to Eco-Cell. If enough cell phones are collected, I’ll do a follow-up story outlining our local impact on the cause. Yes it’s cliche, but together we can make a difference.


Contact ashley at ahalligan@graffitiwv.com