Cell Phones


Cell Phones

According to the research organization Worldwatch Institute, cell phone use grew from one percent of people worldwide in 1992 to 18 percent ten years later. Data from the International Telecommunications Union cites the total number of cellular mobile telephone subscribers in 2002 to be 140,766,800 in more than 75 countries. (World Economic Forum, 2003-4).

Consumers in the U.S. discard their cell phones on average after just 18 months. Yet, cell phones contain toxics-rich semiconductor chips, mercury, cadmium, lead, and galium arsenide. The biggest hazards are the phone's chip-containing circuit board, liquid crystal display, and batteries—followed by the hard-to-recycle plastic casing. See Worldwatch Institute’s “Good Stuff?” page in “web resources,” below.

Disposal and environmental impact

Members of the cell phone industry estimate that in 2003 there were 500 million old cell phones either going unused or already in the waste stream, and that 100 million more are discarded each year. A Green Living Magazine report cites research from the group INFORM, indicating that 500 million phones in landfills could leach as many as 142 tons of lead.

Uses of recycled phones and parts
Recycled phones and their parts (batteries and cords) can be used overseas by people who can't get or cannot afford regular telephone service. Either phones may be re-programmed and re-used, or working phones may be made from scraps. Used phones from the U.S. may cost about 25 percent of the price of a new phone in developing countries.

In the U.S., there are a number of programs that accept phones to support a variety of charitable efforts. Some of the most established programs use the phones, as well as proceeds from resale and recycling, to benefit victims of domestic violence and domestic violence shelters.





Recycling options

Recycling and reuse options

Cell phones are considered hazardous waste. Do not throw them in the regular garbage or with your other recyclables. Find a location or program specifically set-up for electronics collection. Start with the resources listed below.

The CTIA Wireless Foundation is the philanthropic foundation of the wireless industry. Its program is called “Donate a Phone,” which supports several causes, including organizations that address domestic violence (e.g., its “Call to Protect” program).

Collective Good is an organization that facilitates cell phone donations in cooperation with a number of non-profit partners such as The American Humane Association and Earth Share. The website has information on how to donate and where to mail in your old phones.

Staples Stores, in conjunction with Collective Good, accept used phones at their stores. A portion of the proceeds from recycling and resale go to the Sierra Club.

Most wireless providers accept donated phones right at their retail stores and use the proceeds from resale and recycling to benefit a number of causes. For example, Sprint has initiated “Project Connect” where phone donations benefit Easter Seals and the National Organization on Disability. Verizon Wireless has started a program called “HopeLine” to benefit victims of domestic violence and their advocacy groups. See full listing under “Recycle Wireless Phones” in “web resources,” below. As always, check with the store first to make sure it is participating.

You can also wait for local electronics collections, which are usually held in conjunction with household hazardous waste collection events. Cell phones and other electronic equipment can be dropped off free of charge, but electronics from commercial sources are not accepted. Dates and locations for collections in the Chicago area can be found on the Illinois EPA Household Hazardous Waste Collection Schedule website. Or call the Illinois EPA Waste Reduction Unit at (217) 785-8604 or the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation at (312) 744-4611.

Web resources

Recycle Wireless Phones listing

Worldwatch Institute “Good Stuff?”