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Wednesday, May 16, 2007 10:03 pm

Missed connection

Americans throw away about 125 million cellphones a year

art4099
A common iris
PHOTO BY FRED BLOCHER/MCT
Untitled Document What happens to my old cell phone after I upgrade? Do the stores really recycle them or give them to the poor, or are they just ending up in landfills? Where can I take mine to ensure that it is dealt with properly?
As cell phones proliferate, they are giving computers and monitors some competition for the dubious distinction of being the largest contributor to the world’s growing e-waste problem. Indeed, toxin-laden electronics are clogging landfills and polluting air and groundwater supplies from coast to coast. The average North American gets a new cell phone every 18 to 24 months, making old phones — many of which contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and arsenic — the fastest-growing type of manufactured garbage in the nation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans discard 125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste. Luckily, a new breed of electronics recyclers is stepping in to help. Call2Recycle, a nonprofit organization, offers consumers and retailers in the United States and Canada simple ways to recycle old phones. Consumers can enter a ZIP code on the group’s Web site and be directed to a drop box in that area. Most major electronics retailers, from Radio Shack to Office Depot, participate in the program and offer Call2Recycle drop boxes in their stores. Call2Recycle recovers the phones and sells them back to manufacturers, which either refurbish and resell them or recycle their parts for use in new products. The CollectiveGood organization takes used cell phones, refurbishes them, and then resells them to distributors and carriers for use primarily in developing countries, providing affordable communications to poorer citizens while helping “bridge the digital divide.” They also recycle all nonfunctioning batteries through a partnership with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. When you donate your phone to CollectiveGood, you can direct the profits from the sales to a charity of your choice. Another player is ReCellular, which manages the in-store collection programs for Bell Mobility, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Verizon. The company also maintains partnerships with Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, Goodwill Industries, and other nonprofits that undertake cell-phone collection drives as a way of funding their charitable work. According to ReCellular vice president Mike Newman, the company is trying to change attitudes about used cell phones, to get consumers to “automatically think of recycling cell phones just like they currently do with paper, plastic, or glass.
Neither the United States nor Canada mandates electronics recycling of any kind at the federal level, but a few states and provinces are getting into the act of their own initiative. California recently passed the first cell-phone-recycling law in North America. As of July 1, 2006, electronics retailers doing business there must have a cell-phone-recycling system in place to legally sell their products, online or in the store. Other U.S. states considering similar legislation include Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Virginia, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick are likely to jump on the mandatory cell-phone-recycling bandwagon soon.
For more information: Call2Recycle, www.rbrc.org/call2recycle; CollectiveGood, www.collectivegood.com/index.asp; ReCellular, wirelessrecycling.com/home/index.html.  

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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