Consumers looking for an eco-friendly place to ditch their old cell phones can now drop them off at the Santa Barbara Zoo, where the zoo will use the sales to help save gorilla populations and possibly stem foreign bloodshed.
The Santa Barbara Zoo, in a collaborative effort with 87 other zoos across the nation, has joined forces with the nonprofit organization Eco-Cell to collect and refurbish old cell phones for resale to disadvantaged communities, both foreign and domestic. Santa Barbara Zoo spokeswoman Michelle Green said that their collection program protects far-away animals as well as the local environment.
“The benefits are two-fold,” Green said. “It’s a great conservation effort, keeping trash out of our local landfills, and all the proceeds go to support gorilla researchers in the Congo.”
According to Green, profits garnered from the sale of refurbished phones will be used to fund full-time “eco-guards” – educators charged with informing local populations about the environmental hazards of hunting endangered lowland gorilla species.
These representatives can help guard natural gorilla habitats across the Congo, Green said, even by simply being present in select environments. Green said that poachers often will steer clear of areas in which eco-guards are present.
“Researchers have reported that illegal poachers and miners enter study environments far less because there are people there, actually protecting the animals,” Green said.
In some cases, phones will be disassembled and used for their valuable components. Columbite-tantalite, a rare mineral utilized in cell-phone production, can be found almost exclusively in the forested regions of the Congo, Green said. National disagreements over ownership of such resources have partially contributed to violent occupation and civil war in the region. According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, scarcity of minerals was responsible for millions of deaths in affected areas.
“Conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken the lives of 5.4 million people since 1998 and continue to leave as many a 45,000 dead every month,” the report said.
The Eco Cell program aims to reduce columbite-tantalite demands through donations, and in then attempt to lessen the regional violence.
Through direct-drop donations in its dumpster-sized collection bins, Green said the Santa Barbara Zoo has already amassed half a ton of cell phones. She also said that the zoo has made it easy to donate to the cause, accepting mail-in donations if contributors do not have the time to stop by.
“If you don’t want to hold on to [your phone] until the next time you come, put it a box and send it off,” Green said.