In Mingst’s first chapter, she asks “How does international relations affect you in your daily life?” More potentially meaningful information may be garnered by turning that question over on its head: “how do you affect international relations in your daily life?” Are you thinking of buying a new cell phone? What will you do with your old one? You may want to think twice about your decision, as it could have an effect on people thousands of miles away.
…did you know that throwing your old cell phone in the garbage helps support civil war in central Africa, driving endangered gorillas closer to extinction in the process? A little explanation: A used cell phone’s value lies mainly in small amounts of minerals in its circuits — gold, nickel and especially tantalum, a high-melting-point metal sometimes referred to as coltan. Like something from a Clive Cussler thriller, tantalum is vital to manufacturing cell phones and many other electronic devices, but 80 percent of the world’s reserves are in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). There, it is mined under frequently appalling conditions and fought over during the DRC’s ongoing civil and international wars. Tantalum-mining revenues help fuel these wars, along with the associated destruction of human lives and gorilla habitat.
Tantalum and other minerals command a premium, so cell-phone manufacturers have turned to recycling because it’s easier (and more ethical) than dealing with warlords — or commodities brokers who buy from them. An entire tantalum-recycling economy has sprung up, and now accounts for 20 to 25 percent of manufacturing input per year.
In addition, cell phones and their electronic cousins may also contain potentially toxic compounds of lead and arsenic, so it behooves us to keep them from winding up in landfills and afterward, the water supply.
Here are some of the ways that you can keep your old phone’s minerals and plastics in circulation while easing your conscience about making calls using the equivalent of a conflict diamond.
Your next blog entry will be dedicated to documenting either how international relations affects you or how you affect international relations, or both.
Here is a compelling documentary.