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Making a Green Call – Cell Phone Recycling

July 18, 2010

by Christine Fillmore

When it’s time to trade in your outdated device for the newest piece of technology, what happens to your old phone? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are more than 500,000 unused cell phones are in the United States.  Only ten percent of these cell phones are recycled.

Photo by Christine Fillmore

Cell phones contain toxic materials such as mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium and arsenic. Many of the materials found in cell phones are also on the EPA’s list of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs). When cell phones end up in landfills,  PBTs can seep into the soil and waterways.

Today, cell phone recycling is easier than ever. Many organizations, such as cell phone retailers, charities and state or local solid waste programs offer cell phone donation and recycling programs.

Recycle It

Cell phones are made of precious metals, copper and plastics, which require energy to mine and manufacture. Recycling conserves these materials so they can be turned into new products. There are numerous city run and private run recycling centers in mid-Missouri. You can find e-cycling events in your area by going to the Missouri E-cycling events page.

Another option is Mid-Missouri Recycling, a registered electronic recycling business in Columbia. The center is located at 6104 Brown Station Rd. You can also, drop off your unwanted gadget at most cell phone and electronic stores including AT&T, BestBuy, LG, Motorolla, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Staples, Sprint, T Mobile or Verizon.

Sell It

Second-hand cell phone stores are popping up across the nation and online. These shops are a good place to cash in on your outdated cell phone. Green Mobile Man is a mid-Missouri company that purchases used cell phones. Brett Laoruangroch, the Store Manager in Columbia, says the store purchases more than ten phones everyday. The amount of money you can make selling a phone depends on its age and condition. Laoruangroch says if you decide to sell, make sure you bring in proof of ownership. This allows stores to know that they’re purchasing the phone from its rightful owner.

There are also several websites that offer cash for your old gadget. The website ‘CellForCash’ for example, pays for new, used and even broken cells. A good working 3G iPhone is worth more than $100 and a Blackberry Curve more than $80.

Photo by Christine Fillmore

Donate It

Donating your old cell phone can benefit your community. The Callaway County United Way partnered with The Wireless Alliance, a company in Colorado, to collect and recycle old cell phones. The recycling program is a fundraiser for the Callaway County United Way, which receives $2 for every phone donated. Kathy Richey Liddle is the Executive Director of the Callaway County United Way. Liddle says the program doesn’t cost the United Way anything.

“The Wireless Alliance supplies the boxes, they pay for shipping and they take care of everything,” Liddle said.

The Callaway County United Way has collected hundreds of cell phones since the program began one year ago. Liddle says while the organization doesn’t make a huge amount of money from the program, the main purpose is to make sure phones don’t end up in landfills.

There are many other mid-Missouri organizations and charities making use of old cell phones. Most Missouri domestic violence shelters collect cell phones in good and bad condition. For example, the Citizens Against Domestic Violence shelter in Camdenton distributes working phones to victims for emergency use. The phones that cannot be used are recycled and the recycling revenue benefits the shelter.

Whether you decide to recycle, sell or donate, there are three things to remember before handing over your phone. First, make sure you have terminated your service. Second, clear the phone’s memory of stored information. Lastly, remove your SIM card, typically located under the battery.

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