Cell Phone Recycling

Cell phones rival computers as World's largest e-waste problem

Pile of broken obsolete mobile cell phones
Marco Vacca/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

As cell phones proliferate they are giving computers and monitors some competition for the dubious distinction as 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.

Cell Phones Are Among the Fastest Growing Types of Trash

The average North American gets a new cell phone every 18 to 24 months, making old phones — many that contain hazardous materials like 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 (EPA), Americans discard 125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste.

Convenient Recycling Support for Cell Phone Users

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 their zip code on the group’s website and be directed to a drop box in their 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 making new products.

Changing Attitudes About Cell Phone Recycling

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 as they currently do with paper, plastic or glass.

States and Provinces Lead the Way on Mandatory Cell Phone Recycling

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 at their own initiative. California was the first state to pass a cell phone recycling law in North America. As of July 1, 2006, electronics retailers doing business in California must have a cell phone recycling system in place in order to legally sell their products, whether online or in-store. Other U.S. states considering similar legislation include Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Virginia, while the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick are likely to jump on the mandatory cell phone recycling bandwagon soon.