Overview

Stop monkeying around

Imagine someone entering your home and tearing everything apart. And his only justification being he wants to dig a hole in the middle of your living room. What seems pretty strange, is a bitter truth and serious threat to the Congo lowland gorillas.

I magine that someone comes into your home and tears everything apart. And the only justification they have is that they want to dig a hole in the middle of your living room. To us it might seem strange, but it has posed a serious threat to the Congo lowland gorilla for decades. And behind it all is the explosive increase in demand for smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.

The conflicat behind coltan mining

Conflict fuel tantalum

Rebel groups in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are financed i.a. by illegal mining of coltan ore. This causes irrepairable and unacceptable damage for people and nature in this regionl. Deutsche Telekom doesn't directly buy coltan or the metal tantalum, which is made from it, as raw materials. But because tantalum is contained in many of the products sold and used by us, Telekom wants to help minimize and, in the long term, completely eliminate the damages inflicted on humans and nature in the process of mining these raw materials.

Tantalum, a rare earth element, is needed to produce the high-performing capacitors in many electronic devices. Tantalum is extracted from coltan ore, a resource found in Congo. Precisely there were the lowland gorillas live. And because more and more is needed to produce electronics, people keep mining. Economically speaking it is very lucrative, because around 100 dollars are paid for each kilogram of the raw material. Environmentally speaking, however, it's a disaster. Rain forests are being destroyed along with the natural habitat of the lowland gorillas. The animals don't have a chance to find a new territory. Their numbers have plummeted over the past few years, and, today, with a population of only 90,000, the lowland gorilla is considered an endangered species. And that is only one of the negative effects of coltan mining. In addition to harming the environment and promoting inhumane working conditions, it is also one of the main factors behind the Congo civil war, which has already claimed the lives of more than 5 million people. Rebel groups in the eastern Congo use the coltan trade to finance their militias. Human rights violations and inhumane work conditions abound. The goal needs to be having conflict-free mines and a working state that protects its citizens and its nature. That's why Telekom collaborates with organizations such as Missio and the German Institute for Medical Mission (Difäm)/Brot für die Weltthat try to improve the living conditions and health care for the people in the eastern Congo. The resource tantalum is already scarce with reserves only sufficient to cover demand for the next 100 years.

Telekom wants to utilize all means it has available to help eliminate all damages to humans and nature that are caused by coltan mining

Deutsche Telekom is collaborating with the Bifa Umweltinstitut environment institute to develop a technology that will enable us to recycle tantalum from electronic scrap. Different manual and automated methods are being tested to effectively "dismantle" tantalum capacitors. One automated process is particularly promising. The process uses thermal treatment to dismantle the circuit boards. The electronic scrap being used comes from Deutsche Telekom's modernization of its network to make it faster and more efficient for customers. Analog network technology is being deactivated and the entire phone network switched over to IP-based lines, which means removing massive amounts of electronics. Precious metals like tantalum can be recovered from this scrap. Right now everything is still in the test phase but the latest developments are promising. Our objective is clear: We want to act responsibly when it comes to natural resources. Raw materials obtained from outdated products need to be reintroduced into the production process, because the only way to give the gorillas in Congo a chance of survival is if we start getting more out of our electronic waste.

We interviewed Andreas Kröhling, sustainability expert at Deutsche Telekom, about the latest developments.