Mobile industry takes steps to help protect gorillas’ habitat in Congo

The mobile phone industry shares concerns about the plight of gorillas in the Eastern Congo and handset manufacturers take steps to help protect their habitat from destruction.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), Chris Althaus, said handset manufacturers required suppliers of coltan[1], which is used in some handset capacitors, to verify and certify that it was not obtained from the environmentally-sensitive regions in the Congo.

He was responding to the New South Wales Deputy Premier, Carmen Tebbutt, at today’s birthday celebrations for Taronga’s silverback gorilla to promote a mobile phone recycling plan to assist in saving gorilla habitat in Africa.

Mr Althaus said: “The mobile phone industry requires suppliers of coltan to expressly declare that they only use legal sources of the mineral and supplies do not come from the region where the endangered gorillas are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“The mobile telecommunications industry condemns the activities of illegal miners in the environmentally-protected regions of the DRC.”

Mr Alhaus said mobile handset manufacturers sourced coltan from a number of countries, including Australia, which is the biggest producer in the world.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2007 Australia produced more than half of the world’s supply of coltan, which was also mined in Brazil and Canada.

According to USGS, the Democratic Republic of Congo amounted to less than one per cent of the worldwide supply of coltan.

Mr Althaus said the mobile telecommunications industry had also taken further steps to help protect the gorillas in the Congo by minimising the use of coltan in handsets to a bare minimum.

“Not all handsets use coltan or tantalum, as it is called when used in capacitors. For example, in a handset using coltan/tantalum one or two capacitors out of more than 100 would contain coltan.

“In such a phone, this equates to less than 0.04g of tantalum, which is about 0.04% of the phone’s weight.”

Mr Althaus said tantalum was used in mobile phone handsets that required superior voice qualities for people, such as those with a hearing impairment.

“The mobiles industry recognises that it is difficult to get a clear understanding of the origins of coltan and this is why we have both asked our suppliers to verify in writing that they do not source tantalum form the DRC and have minimised our use of the capacitors containing tantalum,” he said.

He said it was estimated that the mobile telecommunications industry used less than 2% of the yearly worldwide production (not from Africa) of tantalum.

Tantalum is used in a wide range of products, including computer motherboards, computer disc drivers, video camcorders, engine control units, surgical equipment, turbine blades in jet engines and lining chemical reactors.

Mr Althaus said the mobile telecommunications industry is working with the environmental movement and consumers to explore any other measures that could effectively safeguard the gorillas’ habitat in the DRC.

MobileMuster, the official recycling scheme of the mobile telecommunications industry, is AMTA’s commitment to an environmentally sustainable industry, which minimises the use of resources through product stewardship, including recycling.

It is the only industry-wide program for electronic waste offering free recycling for all mobile phone brands in Australia. It is believed to be the only such scheme in the world.

More information can be found at: http://www.mobilemuster.com.au/

For more information contact Randal Markey, AMTA, (02) 62396555 or 0421240550

[1] Coltan is an ore extracted and refined to tantalum, a metal used in a range of electronics equipment. It is a rare, valuable metallic element that is twice as dense as steel and highly resistant to heat and corrosion. It stores and releases electrical charge, making it an important material for capacitors in electronic equipment.