Before you think about forsaking your old mobile for the latest model, you need to think about the wider impacts of its disposal. These are just some of the reasons mobile phone recycling is so important.

Impact On Endangered Species

One of the lesser known ingredients in cellphones is coltan. This ore contains tantalum, which is necessary for mobile phone coatings. Large quantities of this ore are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where bands of rebels operate mines. Unfortunately, critically endangered gorillas and chimpanzees are also found here, with the United Nations reporting a 90% decline in the eastern lowland gorilla population in the last five years. The impact doesn’t stop with gorillas, as endangered bonobo and elephant populations are also at risk.

Impact on Global Conflicts

It’s hard to believe our hunger for gadgets is fuelling a war, but the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the bloodiest conflict since World War II. Recent years have also seen Rwanda and Uganda increase their fighting in the eastern Democratic of Congo’s ‘coltan belt,’ as these countries need the ore to finance their conflict. Several rebel groups are also fighting for control over coltan mines.

Impact on Human Rights

In an area as desperately poor as the Democratic Republic of Congo, mining for coltan is a relatively lucrative endeavour. This has led to an escalation in child labour, as up to 30% of children abandon education to seek a fortune that never arrives. Sexual violence has also escalated, communities have been shattered, and ethnic tensions are rife. If this is the hidden cost of a game in HD, the least we can do is reduce the demand for coltan through recycling.

Impact On Landfills

At the beginning of 2014 there were 6.7 billion mobile phone subscriptions for 4.7 mobile phone users across the globe. While more people are recycling their mobiles, there are still vast numbers clogging up landfills. Mobiles contain toxic heavy metals including cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, lithium, arsenic, and copper. When these leach into soil and waterways the effects can be devastating. Lead poisoning alone has already had a significant impact on biodiversity, growth and reproduction.

Impact On Carbon Emissions

Every one million mobile phones recycled successfully recovers 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, and 35,000 pounds of copper. Mining these metals is expensive, and uses a lot of fossil fuels. In an era where climate change has reached desperation point, every recycled mobile is a step in the right direction.


Your old smart phone has an even smarter role to play when it’s recycled with care. In fact, any unwanted mobile can play a part. While it may seem a huge ask for billions of mobile phone users to choose recycling over the rubbish bin, the reasons for recycling can’t be ignored. By making the right choice, you can help make the world a better place.


Image credit: Adrian Clark

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