Hello, Old Cell Phone? This Is Your Future Calling

If it’s rechargeable, it’s recyclable

By Marisa Belger
|  Tuesday, May 26, 2009  |  Updated 6:03 PM EDT
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Who's smarter, you or your phone? If you recycle your old clunker, you are.

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Enticed by a BlackBerry? Crazy for an iPhone? I am. But before I ditch my cell phone for something snazzier, I’m taking a moment to consider what the future holds for my old device. Will this outdated cell end up bouncing around the back of a drawer with other obsolete phones? Or will my old cell phone live on my desk as a makeshift paperweight? Perhaps my toddler will bury it in the backyard with a handful of his puzzle pieces and one blue sock. Or maybe it will end up in the trash.

There are many options for disposal, but unfortunately few are right. I know this because as I ride out the final days of my clunky, old-school phone — barely rings, hardly texts, no e-mail, no Internet access, no useful tools, or fun apps — I’m busy planning its glorious afterlife. Though I’m hot to scrap my phone for something sexier, I’m determined not to allow my device to become part of the 130 million cell phones that are retired — but rarely recycled — each year in the U.S. (according to INFORM, a nonprofit environmental research group).

If you’ve got a phone taking up space in a drawer or closet, now is the time to dig it out and dust it off. Out-of-use cell phones stashed around the house eventually find their way into landfills — which is ultimately bad news for the environment. These gadgets often contain toxic materials like mercury (crystal displays), lead (circuit boards) or nickel and cadmium (batteries).

The good news? Just like the plastic and glass bottles that you diligently recycle, your cell phone can be recycled, too. The bad news? Most of us aren’t there yet. Millions of wireless phones are set aside annually, but the EPA has found that only 10 percent are recycled. Recycling your phone not only keeps toxic materials out of landfills — preventing them from seeping into the earth and into our water supply — but also keeps reusable phone components (think metals and plastics) cycling through the system. The EPA boils down the benefits of cell phone recycling to a relatable equation: Recycling just a million cell phones reduces greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 33 cars off the road for a year.

Where to recycle your cell:
You may not know it, but today there are many options for recycling your phone.

Most of the big carriers offer recycling programs, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

CollectiveGood takes cell phone recycling to another level by allowing you to donate your phone to the charity of your choice. Your cell phone can be used to facilitate a variety of causes from needy children to domestic violence to environmental or international aid. And it’s easy! All you have to do is visit collectivegood.com, pick your charity, enter your information (for tax credit) and send in your phone.

Greenphone.com, CollectiveGood’s sister company, pays you to recycle your phone. Simply enter the manufacturer, model and condition of your phone in Greenphone’s easy-to-use quote calculator. If you’re happy with the number, you simply send in your phone and wait for your check.

Following the theory that “if it’s rechargeable, it’s recyclable,” Call2Recycle.com provides drop boxes for cell phones and rechargeable batteries (from cell phones, laptops, PDAs and the like) at more than 50,000 locations across the country.  A quick search using my Brooklyn zip code brought up 420 options — many under a mile from my front door. Organizations like Call2Recycle help those of us who are eco-minded, but unmotivated, break through our inertia and do the right thing.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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