Conservation Corner: ECO-CELL

By Bonnie Heather Holland

Staff at GRACE in the D.R.C. use donated ECO-CELL phones

Staff at GRACE Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are given donated ECO-CELL phones for their work saving critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas. (Photo courtesy of GRACE)

Every year, cell phones create some 65,000 tons of electronic garbage that contains toxic materials including lead, nickel, and beryllium. When phones are discarded with other trash (illegal in California), these toxins leach out into the environment, polluting the soil and water. Coltan, one of the components used in manufacturing cell phones (and many other electronic gadgets) is mined from the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is prime habitat for gorillas and many other endangered species. The mining process destroys the forest, leaving the animals homeless and vulnerable to poachers.

GRACE staff and their ECO-CELL phones

GRACE staff and their ECO-CELL phones (Photo courtesy of GRACE)

As part of our “Wild for the Planet” celebration (April 23–May 22, 2016), the L.A. Zoo is raising awareness not only about the importance of recycling electronics, but also of doing so in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. Zoos across the country, including this one, encourage electronics recycling through a company called ECO-CELL, which refurbishes phones where possible, then resells them or donates them to conservation NGOs. Any devices or parts that cannot be refurbished are recycled, keeping toxins out of the environment and reducing the demand for minerals such as coltan. Another ECO-CELL benefit is that a portion of the proceeds from zoo-based electronics recycling programs goes to conservation nonprofits such as Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), which is working to save the critically endangered Gauer’s gorilla.

Before heading to the Zoo for Wild for the Planet (or for any other reason), take an inventory of your handheld electronics, including cell phones, MP3 players, handheld games, e-readers, and portable hard drives. Bring in any unwanted items for donation and drop them in the ECO-CELL bin near the front entrance. You’ll help shrink your impact on the planet and help save endangered species!

Featured in Zooscape, May-June 2016