A student-created poster in support of JGI Canada's Cycle My Cell program

A big cheer went up among the students assembled in the spacious auditorium at John Polanyi Collegiate when they heard Dr. Jane Goodall congratulate them via video. The teens were the proud winners of the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada’s Cycle My Cell contest, a friendly competition among three Toronto high schools that threw out a challenge: Which school could collect the most used cell phones to recycle?

With support from Telus, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada (JGI Canada) launched their competition earlier this year. All cell phones contain “conflict minerals,” that is, minerals that are mined in a politically unstable region with the profits financing ongoing civil unrest and violence.

By encouraging people to recycle or refurbish phones, demand for conflict minerals diminishes "

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), small bands of heavily armed militias rely primarily on the mining of conflict minerals as a source of revenue.  Millions of people have perished in the internal fighting in the DRC where JGI Canada is working on-the-ground with small, rural communities to help build schools and clinics with access to clean water while protecting habitat for great apes.

Minerals such ascoltan, gold, silver, aluminum, and copperare extracted for electronic devices in mining operations scattered throughout the Congo basin forests. Habitat destruction, hunting and wildlife trafficking have decimated the wildlife there, chimpanzees and eastern lowland gorillas in particular. Chimpanzees have already disappeared from four African countries and are endangered in the places where they can still be found.

Students from John Polanyi Collegiate Institute

By encouraging people to recycle or refurbish phones, demand for conflict minerals diminishes and with it the mining operations where the desperately poor – mostly women and children – toil under abysmal working conditions.

JGI Canada’s Cycle My Cell campaign raised awareness among students not only through the action of collecting phones, but also through lesson plans tied to curriculum that included learning specifically about the issues of resource extraction, the importance of habitat and wildlife conservation, and the impact of consumer choices and consumption patterns. In addition, students learned about e-waste and mitigating carbon emissions by recycling.

Cycle My Cell poster

Working with John Polanyi Collegiate Institute, University of Toronto Schools (UTS) and Central Toronto Academy, the goal was ambitious: collect 100 or more phones per school for a total of 300 phones. By the end of May, an impressive 413 phones had been collected and the students of John Polanyi filled their bins with 241 phones!

As per the interactive page on the JGI Canada website, recycling 413 phones means that 62 kilos of metal, plastic and glass are diverted from landfills and 3,717 kilos of CO2 is removed from the atmosphere.

Dr. Goodall recognized all three participating schools and each also received a cash reward to be used to benefit the school.

Says Denise Costa, the teacher who championed the contest at John Polanyi Collegiate, “We feel very fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful cause and have learned a lot about the Congo, Jane's work and conservation. I think the campaign has made a difference to our school community.”

Victoria Foote is director of communications and fund development with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. Visiting project sites in Democratic Republic of Congo, she has seen first-hand what a difference the campaigns like Cycle My Cell can make.

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