Illustration by Pawel Kuczynski
Gluttony for new technology is feeding African slavery and causing extinction of rare natural elements, a heavier price for our insatiable consumer paradise, if we buy a new cell phone device or a laptop, we are part of this destructive predator named Capitalism, the beast of ‘First World Nations’ that is driving ecocide and modern slavery. The predator that we feed, leaves behind a trail of destructive footprints across the planet, wherever it treads to extract and deplete, natural resources. The frightening thing is, no where on Earth is left sacred, protected or untouched any more, because Corporations are able to lobby, (legally bribe) politicians to rewrite environmental laws or any law that allows corporations to access minerals, oil, gas or any other biological resource, even in the most protected national parks, environmental laws have dwindled dramatically over the last forty years. All species, all ecosystems, all natural resources are dwindling at an exponential rate, as a result of this predatory insatiable appetite.
Every day, we dispose of over 416,000 mobile devices and 142,000 computers usually disposing of them in landfills and incinerators, where as a tiny portion are recycled, stated in a recent EPA survey. A BBC Panorama program said that every year 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide.
Another EPA report reveals that by recycling one million cell phones, we can recover more than 20,000 lbs of copper, 20 lbs of palladium, 550 lbs of silver, and 50 lbs of gold. Then there are these other rare elements below that will soon be extinct, if we were able to recycle computers and cell phones without worrying about license laws, but with the care of the planetary resources in mind, we could millions of tons of reduce electronic waste each year and salvage rare elements that are becoming seriously depleted.
Our over-reliance on renewing our technological devices, is driving this unfolding ecocide, the consumerism of electrical goods such as ipads, tablets and android phones. All of these electrical devices rely on a highly unethical mining industry that uses slave labour to mine and assemble electrical products in inhumane conditions; in addition to driving the destruction of the last cloud forests home of the highly endangered Silverback Gorilla populations in Africa. This is well illustrated by the story of the Silverback Gorillas in the African Congo.
The mining of Gold, Diamonds and Coltan, (Ta on the Periodic table-geological name – Columbite Tantalite), a mineral used in the microchips of every single new electronic device, cell phone or tablet and laptop, comes from the African Congo, in the Virungas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The African Congo has a small area of biodiverse cloud forest ecosystem, where a small group of the world’s last pocket of remaining Silverback Gorillas which lend thanks to the work of Dian Fossey who was murdered on December the 26th 1985, her work was to preserve and protect these primates, which are critically threatened with extinction from poaching and a continually eroded habitat due to these existing ‘Conflict Minerals’ being extracted in the area. Including the mineral Coltan used for microchips, the western greed for constantly renewing cell phones and laptops, is responsible for this plundering. Other rare elements such as Indium are also depleting for the same reason –
”Devices like computers and smartphones. Indium, for example, is a silvery metal used to create touch screens for phones and computers. According to Cole-Hamilton, the world’s indium supply is “extremely thinly spread” across the planet and could soon dry up if we continue chucking out our old devices every few years”-LiveScience
According the the European EuChemS new Periodic table on the rarest elements, Coltan Ta is under serious threat of disappearing within the next hundred years. Coltan Tantalite is used primarily for the production of tantalum capacitors, used in every kind of electronic devices such as mobile phones.
Niobium and Coltan Tantalum have a wide range of uses, including refractive lenses for glasses, cameras, phones and printers. They are also used in semiconductor circuits, and capacitors for small electronic devices such as hearing aids, pacemakers, and mp3 players, as well as in computer hard drives, automobile electronics, and surface acoustic wave (SAW) filters for mobile phones. Coltan is also used to make high-temperature alloys for jet engines and other engine turbines.
Coltan can only be found in a few places in the world, one of which is in Australia, which was the world’s largest producer at Wodinga Tantalum mine in Western Australia, however they closed their mine in 2012 because it is cheaper to mine Coltan using child and adult slave labour in inhumane conditions in Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo and exposing these working communities to toxic chemicals. To make matters worse for the Silverback Gorillas, the SOCO International energy company are pushing to extract gas and oil reserves from under Lake Edward in the National Park. All this, at the cost of one of the last greatest African forests and majestic Gorillas which have only been given an estimated 15 years of survival amidst the adversities they face through our lack of global responsibility to better manage conservation of critically endangered species, because minerals, gold, diamonds and oil are far more important to the world than saving the Silverback Gorillas and their forest home.
The fact that global mining companies can cut corners to make a bigger profit at the expense of an entire endangered species such as the Mountain Gorilla and at the expense of hard working African miners, who are exploited slave labourers,
shows that international environmental and human rights laws are far too flimsy and ineffective.
However, the Western world conveniently lacks humanitarian and environmental ethics in business, which in turn perpetuates slavery, species extinction and ecocide. This has come so far as corporations suing and imprisoning entrepreneurs and innovators whose mere crime is to combat human waste and planned obsolescence to attempt to create sustainable solutions.
Eric Lundgren, ecological entrepreneur was imprisoned for recycling computer circuit boards into reusable computers. Image credit-David Sprague
Eric Lundgren, a 33 year old e-waste entrepreneur, from Los Angeles, United States, was imprisoned in 2018 for his success in a business which achieved recycling of 41 million pounds of e-waste each year from major corporations such as IBM and Sprint.
Microsoft took Eric Lundgren to court where he was then served a sentence of 15 months in prison and had to pay a $50,000 fine on April the 11th 2018. Microsoft’s argument was that Lundgren could potentially damage their future sales of new computers and new software licenses, the court ruled in favour of Microsoft saying that he had infringed on Microsoft Corp. to the sum of $700,000.
Lundgren pleaded guilty, but he stated that the value of his discs to Microsoft was zero, as Microsoft, nor any computer manufacturers, sell them. He also explained that the discs could only be used to restore the software to computers already licensed for it. The licenses are good for the life of the computer.
Right-to-repair activists want legislation to remove the manufacturing and legal barriers that make it harder for consumers to fix their stuff. When people buy used devices and keep those devices working longer, fewer natural resources are needed for manufacturing and less e-waste ends up in landfills.
Planned Obsolescence needs to be revealed for what it is. People need to wake up to the damage corporations and consumers are causing to the environment and the perpetuation of slave labour, habitat destruction for mining and as a result species extinction.
by Carlita Shaw