They’re Calling On You: Conservation & Points Of Influence
Producing the 7 billion mobile phones that are in service globally has a high environmental cost, contributing to habitat destruction and depletion of mineral resources. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not recycle their old phones, opting to either throw old phones away with their regular trash (which is an incorrect method of disposal) or hoard them. Even in China, where reverse vending machines are set up to take in old phones in exchange for discounts on future phones, nearly 80% of people store their old phones at home.
This article, published by the Public Library of Science, examines efforts to encourage people to recycle their old phones. Specifically, the article centers on the “They’re Calling on You” campaign run by Zoos Victoria in Australia from 2009 to 2014. Over this period, the zoo encouraged patrons to donate their old mobile phones and collected a total of 115,369 phones.
The campaign focused on the connection between recycling mobile phones and recovering certain metals, such as coltan, to decrease the need to mine these metals afresh. The mining of coltan in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo threatens, among other animals, endangered populations of eastern lowland gorillas. Since zoos attract more than 600 million patrons per year globally, the authors believe they could be important venues through which social change can be facilitated.
The “They’re Calling on You” campaign reached out to the public through various means. For example, they distributed bright-green pre-paid satchels with a picture of Yakini, one of the gorillas housed at the Melbourne Zoo, which people could use to turn in retired mobile phones. This particular method was unsuccessful, with only 1.3% of the satchels being returned with phones, for a total loss of AUD $53,195. Fortunately, other methods proved to be more cost-effective and successful.
44% of phones collected were obtained as a result of the Courier Collect initiative, in which Zoos Victoria reached out to local schools and community/corporate groups to encourage them to collect old phones for couriers to pick up. This method has the further advantage of fostering closer community ties. Static Displays, which featured brochures and other materials left out in non-interactive displays to describe the zoo’s phone-recycling program, collected 26% of total recovered phones with minimal effort. Keeper Talks, in which zookeepers speak with groups, were found to be cost-effective as well – especially for smaller groups.
The authors suggest that future research should establish standardized techniques for calculating the value of recycled phones in terms of elements recovered and other parts obtained, as well as standard measures of monetary and environmental costs. They also suggest creating quantitative and qualitative surveys to get feedback from patrons on such programs.
This case study in Australia goes to show that conservation-based organizations with wide-reaching influence can be effective in influencing people to practice environmentally-conscious behavior such as recycling their phones for the sake of gorillas. Though the case study here looked at zoos, advocates can adapt these methods to sanctuaries and other pro-animal organizations. This should encourage advocates to approach local conservation centers or sanctuaries to collect recycled mobile phones, in addition to encouraging their friends and family to recycle their phones rather than keeping them at home. Such initiatives could help sanctuaries by adding a revenue stream, as well as helping the general public make connections between the protection of the environment and that of iconic animals.