Recycled smartphones are being used to make equipment designed to combat illegal logging in rainforests. The phones detect noise made by chainsaws and send alerts to the relevant organisations.

Recycled Smartphones Help to Combat Deforestation

Every year around 720 million mobile phones are thrown away worldwide, according to figures from Planetoscope, a French ecology statistics website.  It does not appear to be very common for people in the United States to recycle their mobile devices. The US Environmental Protection Agency reported that out of the 152 million phones thrown away in 2010, only 11% were recycled.  However, recycling smartphones is not only good ecological practice but can also have a direct impact on the protection of tropical forests. San-Francisco-based not-for-profit startup Rainforest Connection has come up with a dual solution whereby recycled smartphones are turned into equipment for tracking and reporting on illegal logging activity.

Listening to the forest, sending alerts

Rainforest Connection is offering the first-ever system for detecting illegal logging in real time with a view to combating deforestation and its consequences, including species extinction and accelerated climate change. Recycled smartphones are retro-fitted with solar panels. The devices, with their autonomous power source, are then placed in the tree canopy at the heart of the rainforest. The phone’s microphone is used as a sound sensor, which can record noises around it for up to a kilometer. When the improvised system ‘hears’ the sound of a chainsaw, it sends an alert to the Rainforest Connection cloud server, which then passes on a text message to a person on the spot who is in a position to intervene fast to deal with the illegal logging activity. The system uses the standard GSM cellphone network, which is usually available even in the remotest areas. At the moment only Android smartphones are compatible with the Rainforest Connection system (RFCx). Other brands of recycled phones are used to equip the local forest wardens.

RFCx achieves results

The Rainforest Connection system thus provides a much more proactive approach to the problem of deforestation than the other existing solutions based on aerial surveillance or satellite monitoring. With the smartphone setup it takes only five minutes to detect suspicious noises. This compares with a week to discover suspicious activity by examining satellite pictures.  Rainforest Connection carried out pilot projects on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and in Cameroon in 2012, which proved their worth. Only two weeks after the installation of the RFCx, they detected illegal logging activity and helped arrest wild-life poachers. The Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign surpassed its target of $100,000, attaining close to $170,000 (€127,000). Meanwhile the startup recently signed a partnership with Equipe de Conservação da Amazônia (ECAM) (Team for Preserving the Amazon Forest) to install equipment able to detect noises from trucks in forest access zones.


By Eliane HONG