Saturday, January 8, 2011

Can you hear me now? (A call-up for old cell phones)

As a person more inclined toward Little House on the Prairie than The Jetsons, I've generally been a resister of all things technological, and didn't purchase my first cell phone until most people were on their third or fourth upgrade. That was back in the days when androids were characters in Star Wars, blackberries were picked by grandmothers who wore aprons and still knew how to make jam, I Touch was definitely not something you would ever admit, and a 'hot spot' required treatment by a veterinarian.

I remember my first cell phone with nostalgic longing. It was a simple model that could be used for making and taking calls. That's it. And yet, it still seemed so magical. I remember the first time it rang when I was in a public restroom and I had to decide if I should take the call, or wait. Wow. Now that is accessibility. It changed life forever, even without any fancy applications. The manual was less than one hundred pages, and most of those were instructions about using the voice mail system, which was the most complicated function the phone could perform, and took about six minutes to master.

The phone worked wonderfully, until it started having problems holding a charge, as all phones seem to do when they are approaching the end of their 18 month lifespan, coinciding, as usual, with the end of the contract agreement. Since a new battery would cost more than a new phone, I fell for the “free” upgrade scheme.

I told that sales guy seven years ago that I didn't need or want a camera in my phone, but he said that all phones in the store had cameras, and if I really wanted one without, they would have to special order it, and it would be a lot more expensive. He also tried to sell me extra minutes in my new contract, especially for texting, to which I replied, “Isn't it more efficient just to talk, I mean, it's still a phone, right?”

I ended up with a basic flip phone that could do a lot of things that I didn't feel a phone really needed to do. As predicted, I never used the camera on purpose, but did take a series of unintentional shots of the inside of my coat pocket. So the upgrade ultimately replaced the deactivated, and the junk drawer in my kitchen developed a new subcategory.

As of yesterday morning, there were four dead cell phones in there, along with four house chargers, three car chargers, and a few clips and ear pieces and other accessories that serve no purpose.

When I asked my friends at the local town transfer station about recycling cell phones, they told me to throw them in with the regular trash. This made me wince.

Common sense, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, will tell you that there are many good reasons not to put old cell phones into landfills. Toxic waste is the main one. Fortunately, cell phones can be refurbished, reused, and recycled, and your donation of an old cell phone can even generate funds to support a charity of your choice.

How do you donate?

It's easy. First, go find your old phones in your closets, drawers, and cabinets, then decide who you would like to support with your donation.

One of the more publicized programs is Cell Phones for Soldiers, a company started in 2004 by teenage siblings, Brittany and Robbie Berquist. Cell Phones for Soldiers collects donated cell phones, sells them to a recycling company, and uses the proceeds to purchase prepaid calling cards for American troops who are faraway from home. If you are interested in donating your phone to this organization, visit the website link below, enter your zip code to find a drop-off location, (there were three within 8 miles of our rural home), or print a prepaid mailing label and drop them in the mail.

There are hundreds of other programs that collect donated phones for different causes. Since I had four to get rid of today, I chose to support several different organizations, including HopeLine, Verizon's program to collect, recycle, and refurbish cell phones and provide service to domestic violence victims. As with most cell phone recycling programs, you can print a free shipping label from their website.

What about other charities that accept donations?

The EPA has established relationships with all cell phone manufacturers, recycling programs, charities, and retailers around the nation. To learn more about how to recycle your phone for a specific cause of your choice, check out this link

Once you start looking around, you will notice that there are collection boxes at many retail locations that you probably visit regularly. Home Depot, Staples, and Lowe's are just a few. They each support different causes. Schools and other organizations often collect phones for fund raising events.

What about the personal data on the phone?

Your phone retailer can remove data from your old phone.

To learn more about recycling practices, and for tips on how to erase personal data from your phones yourself, check out

What happens when your donated phone is recycled?

Firstly, you avoid putting more toxic waste into the landfill. Charities sell them to recycling companies, who either send your phones to a smelter, where they are ground up and the metals are reclaimed (there's a lot of gold and silver in there!), while hazardous constituents are disposed of conscientiously, or, they are de-manufactured first, which recovers more plastics and usable components before the reclamation process begins.

If you are interested in learning more, listen to this podcast about phone recycling Cell Phone Recycling Podcast (MP3)

This week's challenge: Release your deactivated cell phones from junk drawer purgatory, donate them to the cause of your choice, and keep old cell phones out of the landfill by spreading the word about recycling.

I plan to print out this flyer from the EPA and give it to the guys at my transfer station. These guys are really friendly and they are in the perfect position to divert many cell phones from improper disposition.

Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's an Easy Call (Flyer) (PDF)


  1. I just read about your blog in the New York Times. Great Blog!

    Thank you for this post! In addition to the donation sites you listed, there are also sites that offer trade-ins for electronics.

    Crutchfield and Zagg offer decent deals:



    All the best!

  2. I am sure I will be writing more about small electronics in the future, as they seem to breed... Thanks for these suggestions and additional resources.

  3. Actually i dont have any idea what happened to my old phone.

  4. Congratulations for redeployment such a practical blog. Your blog isn't only educational but also extremely artistic too.

  5. An old article but even more relevant today.

    Recycling old cell phones and gadgets is a great way to help the environment and make yourself a few extra dollars. More and more recyclers are appearing across America all of the time so using a sell old cell phones comparison site such as is a great way to find the best prices on offer quickly and easily as they only compare reputable buyers.

    The more we recycle the better our world will be!