Louisville Zoo is #1 in the country for phone recycling

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The Louisville Zoo was recently recognized as the No. 1 zoo in North America for cell phone recycling efforts in 2008 by ECO-CELL, North America’s premiere cell phone recycling program. This designation surpasses last year’s honor as the No. 1 zoo in the United States.

“This is a great mark of distinction,” Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak said. “More than 100 zoos in North America participate in ECO-CELL’s recycling program and to be No. 1 speaks to the Louisville Zoo’s leadership in areas of conservation and preservation, which are at the heart of our mission. It is also evidence of our community’s growing support for conservation efforts.”

In 2008, ECO-CELL diverted 4,000 pounds of toxic cell phone batteries, 35,000 cell phones and 6,000 pounds of cell phone accessories from landfills. The Louisville Zoo helped in that effort by collecting more than 4,400 old cell phones from visitors and businesses in 2008.

ECO-CELL recycles phones that are deemed “end of life,” and reuses other phones by either providing them to charities for emergency 911 uses or reselling them to refurbishers, who in turn sell them to emerging markets where the cost of a new cell phone is often prohibitive.

ECO-CELL gives the Zoo anywhere from 45 cents to $15 per phone donated, depending on the type. Since 2003 ECO-CELL has given the Louisville Zoo more than $15,000 which helps support the Zoo’s conservation programs.

Starting the New Year off right, Louisville Metro Government recently donated more than 500 phones to the Zoo. These old city phones are either physically damaged, discontinued by the manufacturer or are no longer compatible with the city’s current carriers. The city waits until carriers offer free upgrades to replace these phones in bulk, as it is often more cost-effective to get a new phone instead of paying to repair an older one.

“Our Zoo has always been a leader in environmental preservation efforts, so I’m not surprised that the Zoo is leading the charge in North America,” said Mayor Jerry Abramson.  “I am proud of their hard work in educating the public about proper recycling, and we will continue to support their efforts.”

Recycling cell phones, besides helping the environment and improving the health of our Earth, also helps save the world’s precious gorillas.

Cell phones contain a metallic ore called Coltan, a mineral that is refined into a heat-resistant powder that holds an electrical charge. The powder, which regulates voltage and stores energy, is essential for coating components of cell phones and other modern devices such as laptops, pagers and PDAs. Coltan is found in the Congo of central Africa, home to endangered lowland gorillas. Forest habitats are being cleared and gorillas, along with other rare animals, are being killed for bushmeat—a negative side industry of ore mining. The United Nations has reported that in the past five years, the eastern lowland gorilla population in the Congo has declined 90 percent because of these destructive activities. By reducing the demand for Coltan, gorillas and their habitats have a better chance for survival.

“When we first started recycling cell phones in 2003, we learned about the Coltan and gorilla issue from the Louisville Zoo and decided to make the conservation of gorillas and wildlife the thrust of our program as a result,” said Eric Ronay, president of ECO-CELL, which is headquartered in Louisville. “Needless to say, they were our very first partner and they have made a tremendous impact on our organization. In turn, every decision we make regarding our environmental practices is guided by the standards set by the Louisville Zoo and our many Association of Zoos and Aquariums partners. Partnering with zoos is business logic, since millions of people visit North American zoos annually. We set up a collection point at the front gate of those zoos and just invite the public to bring in their old cell phones.”

If you have an old cell phone lying around—maybe you got a new one for a holiday gift—bring it to the Louisville Zoo and help protect gorillas and their habitat. Make sure your service is disconnected and your phone is cleared of all its data, then drop it off at the designated cell phone donation box at the Zoo’s entrance. Organizations and groups are also encouraged to collect old cell phones and bring them to the Zoo.

Pick-ups can be arranged for large donations, and/or a free Louisville Zoo donation box can even be requested through ECO-CELL and placed at your business for collections. For more information on these options, call ECO-CELL at (888) 326-3357.

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