Recycling Old Phones A New Way To Give
Did you get a cell phone for Christmas? Why not recycle your old one?
Every year, Americans buy more than 100 million cell phones. Most of those replace older handsets, which wind up at the bottom of a desk drawer and, eventually, a landfill where toxins from their circuit boards, coatings, resistors, batteries, and plastic casings leak into the ground and atmosphere.
So what's an eco-minded gadget lover to do?
For now, the onus for recycling handsets falls squarely on the consumer. Groups such as the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade group have encouraged carriers to develop recycling programs. But with the exception of some state and local mandates, they're not required to.
Fortunately, recycling is easier than ever, thanks to a handful of programs by carriers and charities.
• Wireless carriers
Verizon's (VZ) recycling program is just one example of carrier-sponsored efforts. Customers at most of Verizon's company-owned stores can drop off cell phones and batteries, which are then refurbished or safely scrapped.
Verizon recycled about 1 million phones in 2007 vs. 100,000 in 2001, according to company spokeswoman Debra Lewis. The carrier donates some of the retooled phones to HopeLine, a nonprofit agency that assists victims of domestic violence, or sells them to other carriers and donates the money to charity.
A variety of charities could benefit from consumers' recycling efforts.
That's the idea behind Eco-Cell, which has partnered with North American nonprofit agencies to encourage recycling.
The company pays $15 per phone that any group collects. It works with 300 nonprofits, including 30 zoos in cities including Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia and Phoenix.
Eco-cell recycled about 75,000 phones this year vs. 10,000 a few years ago.
"Our refurbished usually go to low income, first-time wireless users in Latin America," said Eco-Cell president Eric Ronay.
Phones recycled through CollectiveGood get fixed and resold to distributors and carriers to sell in developing countries, donating the proceeds to the donor's favorite charity.
The Center For Domestic Violence Prevention, The Humane Society of the United States, and Friends of the Congo are some of the organizations helped by the program.
This year, CollectiveGood also let donors support Barack Obama's and John McCain's presidential campaigns.
Best known for its behind-the-scenes work to recycle phones, ReCellular manages the in-store collection programs for Best Buy, (BBY) Bell Mobility, Sprint Nextel, (S) T-Mobile and Verizon. But you also can deal with ReCellular directly.
The company maintains partnerships with Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, Goodwill Industries and other nonprofits that undertake cell phone collection drives as a way to raise funds for these charitable works.
• Cell Phones for Soldiers
Those old phones could help U.S. soldiers stationed overseas call home — in a roundabout way. Founded by two U.S. teenagers with $21 of their own money, Cell Phones for Soldiers collects about 15,000 cell phones per month though 3,000 collection sites around the country. Proceeds buy prepaid calling cards troops can use to call home.
The nonprofit has raised almost $1 million in donations and doled out more than 400,000 calling cards.
Cells phones are just one of the many electronic items Gazelle handles, along with digital music players, laptops and video game consoles. Though it bills itself as a cash-for-trash-style recycling service, users can send proceeds from their old gadgets directly to any of dozens of nonprofits, including the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill Industries.
• Cash to recycle
If charity begins at home, CashOldPhone.com, Ibuyphones.com and others will refurbish or recycle your unused handset and pay you a portion of the earnings.
Most work like Gazelle.com: You put in the details about your phone, including model and condition. The sites give you a quote; if you accept, you'll get a shipping label to send it in. Once the service receives the phone, they'll examine it and send you a check.
Despite the sheer number of options available, even the best efforts of recyclers have made little dent in the mass of discarded phones.
"Most consumers are not aware of the various recycling options," said Eco-Cell's Ronay.
If the cash or charitable donations don't prompt you to recycle, maybe the environmental benefits will.
Consumers recycle only 5% of phones each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thrown-away phones represent some 65,000 tons of electronic garbage every year.
If customers recycled their phones instead, they would save enough energy to power more than 194,000 homes every year.