• Michael Weeding

When it comes to mobile phones Australian’s are a bunch of Neophiliac’s. So when you buy the iPhone

Australians love mobile phones. There are reports of over 24.22 million mobile phone subscribers even though we have a population of about 22 million, most of whom choose to update their mobile phone every 18 to 24 months. With statistics like that I would think that many Aussies would already be thinking about their next mobile phone even though they probably only purchased one no more than 12 months ago. A “neophiliac” is simply someone who craves anything that’s new and our obsessions with wanting the latest mobile phone may put many of us in this category.

The concerning trend is not our want of the latest technology, most consumers around the world could be guilty of this desire. It is the fact that we are keeping hold off our old mobile phones, with reports that only 9% of phones are being recycled.

So in an age of social responsibility there are many reasons why we should be better at recycling our old phones or any of our technology devices that we no longer need. Despite all the reasons there is only one that should inspire us to better environmental citizens, and that is “Tantalum”.

Tantalum is highly corrosion resistant metal that is used in the production of capacitors for electronic equipment such as mobile phones, computers and tablets. The metal is irreplaceable. It cannot be substituted with other, more commonly available elements or alloys without losing qualities. Tantalum is extracted from coltan, the colloquial African name for the black ore composed of two minerals, columbite and tantalite.

Central Africa supplies about a fourth of the world’s coltan market as production declines in Australia, the previous world leader. Most Central African coltan is considered a conflict mineral because mining areas are controlled by armed factions and organised crime. It is also reported by human rights organisations that the mining of this mineral has funded conflicts that has contributed to the deaths of over 5 million people.

While most technology manufacturers requires component suppliers to certify that none of their tantalum comes from the Congo it appears that this is difficult to control as much of this conflict mineral is smuggled across borders into legitimate supplies. While there is work being done to identify ways to fingerprint coltan like that has been done with diamonds it is very difficult to detect if legitimate supplies of coltan have been contaminated with conflict minerals.

So the recycling of our technological devices is not only about keeping a massive amount of ewaste out of our landfills where it could pollute ground water, but the fact that the demand for minerals such as coltan that are essential in the development of the devices we use is contributing to conflict and human suffering.

So when you decide to upgrade your phone in the very near future, I hope that this gives you reason to not keep your old one in your cupboard for that rainy day but send it off for recycling.


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