Recycling your old mobile device has never been easier, so why don’t more people do it? The highest percentage of the recycling market are cell phones, more than any other electronic material. However, in the U.S., we only recycle 10 percent of our phones, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We have the option to do better by taking advantage of the growing eWaste industry.
The average mobile phone owner has at least two old phones sitting in a drawer somewhere. Although we have been through at least eight iterations of phones since the “smartphone” has been on the market, all too often the old cast-offs get tucked away or thrown out and can easily end up in a landfill.
Approximately 70 percent of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics in US trash and is a severe hazardous to the environment.
Many components of electronic devices are toxic and include materials like cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury, copper, zinc, and lithium. These substances that leak out from landfills can seep into our soil and contaminate our groundwater.
So, what can you do?
First and foremost, always take the opportunity to trade-in your current device when purchasing a new one. This will help offset the cost of the new device and/or you may receive credit to put towards the purchase of new accessories. Your phone will be data-wiped and either sold into a secondary market or responsibly recycled.
But what should you do if you still have an extra phone? There are several actions you can take:
Call your cellular provider to see if they have a “buy back” option or simply turn it in for the cell company to donate to a recycler.
Find a cell phone collection center.
Repair it with a cell phone repair kit.
Give it away to somebody that needs one.
Find a responsible recycler
If you choose the donation option, research the company and be confident it is a reliable organization.
Presumably, many recycling centers are respectable and will disassemble the phone for reuse. However, there are cases that have revealed that companies might not be as responsible about how they dispose of your old electronics. In fact, a large part of these items is shipped to other countries to toxic waste dumps, according to Basel Action Network executive director Jim Puckett.
According to Puckett, too often, about 80 percent of that material goes to countries like China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan, where people work in dangerous, toxic environments and suffer serious consequences.
When trading in your old phone for a newer one, it would be smart to check the chain of how and where your old phone may end up. Most service providers, OEMs and retailers are connected with reliable recyclers, but it is a good practice to inquire of the process they use so you can be sure your old data is wiped off and that it gets refurbished and reused. Checking to see if they have an R2 (Responsible Recycler) certification is good indication that you are dealing with a reputable organization.
Until we can do better by keeping electronic waste out of our landfill and groundwater, recycling devices to responsible organizations is critical to the health and well-being of our planet.
For a more in-depth view of the the second life of mobile phones in the Secondary Smartphone Market, download our white paper: Understanding U.S. Consumers in the Secondary Smartphone Market.