Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Definitive Guide to E-waste, Part 2: Old Cell Phones

poster about recycling mobile phones to benefit guide dogs, with picture of cute dog

You've got your new cell phone, and you know you shouldn't toss the old one in the garbage. And you really don't want to have your old mobile phone (or phones) just sitting around cluttering up your home or the office. So what are your options?

1. Sell it.

Sure, you could try to sell your phone on eBay or craigslist or at a garage sale. But an easier option might be selling to or SecondRotation. (And there are a number of other options, too.) In the UK, there's Mopay and Sometimes they will even take broken phones.

What happens to the phones? Not all companies tell you anything. BuyMyTronics says, "We take your broken electronics and swap out parts to fix others, then resell your gadgets."

2. Donate it to support a good cause.

There are a huge number of options here; this list is just a sample. This list also focuses on national programs; there are also many local programs that accept cell phones.

Note: Each of these organizations works differently. Many of them will sell the phones to refurbishers/recyclers to make money for their cause, and it's not always clear what happens to the phone after that. Dawn Stover at has some cautions that are well worth a look.

Call to Protect (USA)
"Collects wireless phones to benefit survivors of domestic violence. Proceeds from the sale of phones help fund agencies that fight domestic violence and are also used to support the educational efforts of the Wireless Foundation. Other phones are refurbished and become lifelines for domestic violence survivors when faced with an emergency situation."

Cell Phones for Soldiers (USA)
"Donated cell phones are sold to a company that recycles them. The money we receive from recycling cell phones is used to purchase calling cards that we send to troops in need."

Cerebral Palsy organizations (Australia; varies by state)
Western Australia's web site says, "All phones received are recorded, sorted, tested, repaired if necessary and refurbished and then exported to developing countries. These phones help bridge the digital divide, improving the local economies and also the quality of life by providing affordable, first-time modern communications for many people. There is a tracking system in place that is able to track any phone throughout the entire process.

Phones that can not be reused are dismantled for parts to help repair phones or make up a working phone. If the parts cannot be used, ARP recovers materials for use in manufacture of other products. Older phones that are seriously damaged are sent to material recycling, where materials can be recovered and put back into productive use. The remaining materials are sent for disposal in an environmentally friendly manner. No materials go to landfill."

HopeLine, sponsored by Verizon Wireless (USA)
"The long-running HopeLine program collects no-longer-used wireless phones and equipment in any condition from any service provider. The used phones are either refurbished or recycled. With the funds raised from the sale of the refurbished phones, Verizon Wireless donates wireless phones and airtime to victims, and provides funding and other contributions to non-profit domestic violence shelters and prevention programs across the country."

Phones for Food (Canada)
This one benefits local food banks. "Phones are sorted and sold to the remanufacturing industry. This industry turns them into refurbished products for consumers."

Recycle for Breast Cancer (USA)
"RFBC donates all its profits from its recycling efforts to support the fight against breast cancer." The web site provides no details on how the recycling is done or exactly where the funds go.

The Charitable Recycling Program (USA)
"Many phones are donated to shelters for abused adults and children so they may have 911 (emergency only) communication. Charitable Recycling also provides cell phones to medical patients who are awaiting organ transplants. Also, some of the phones we receive are refurbished and redeployed in areas of the world where there are no land (wire) lines, or, where the cost of a new phone is prohibitive. Phones that cannot be refurbished or donated will be recycled and disposed of in an environmentally-responsible manner." Charitable Recycling also makes a donation to charity for each phone you donate, and you get to pick the charity.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK)
"For every mobile phone ... sent to The Recycling Appeal, the RSPB will receive a cash donation. This money will help us to carry out vital conservation work across the UK, such as creating habitats for wildlife."

3. Give it to someone who can use it.

Maybe you know someone who doesn't need the latest and greatest. Or check your local Freecycle; I see requests for cell phones on mine fairly often.

4. Recycle it.

Many stores have take-back programs - and not just for phones bought there.

Manufacturers have take-back programs, too: Apple (which takes back any brand), Motorola (which also takes all brands), Nokia USA, etc.

And of course there are recycling options other than the stores and manufacturers; In the U.S., Earth911 can help you find them.

But not all recycling operations are created equal; that's the topic of the next post in this series. (I'm lucky enough to live by Green Citizen; I know anything I recycle with this company will be handled in the best possible manner.)

In the meantime, you might want to watch The Secret Life of Cell Phones.

CAUTION: Before you sell or donate your phone, be sure to remove all your stored information from that phone. You can learn how to do that here or here. Some companies like Green Citizen provide a cell phone erasure service, for a fee.

Previous post in this series:
Part 1: What's the Big Deal?

[photo from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the U.K.]


Michele said...

Thanks for pulling all this information together. I confess to having some old electronics laying around that I would love to get rid of but haven't yet because the disposal is a project.

Jeri Dansky said...

Michele, I'm glad you're finding it useful. You are far from alone in having old electronics sitting around, to be disposed of someday.

lucy said...

Apparently Eco-System Recycling in Japan claims they can get 150g of gold from each ton of old mobiles, which is very good considering you only get 5g of gold per ton from ore in a gold mine. As far as I know companies like envirofone just recycle parts for spares.

Jeri Dansky said...

Lucy, thank you for the comment! I went to Eco-System Recycling's web site and I was pleased to read this: "We are promoting the formation of a Recycling-Oriented Society..."

And yes, when an organization tells you they are recycling your old phone (or anything else), you'll need to probe a bit more if you want to understand what's really going to happen to that phone.