Recycling Cell Phones, 32°

by Erika Parker Price

One of the pressing environmental questions of 2011 is how we can do a better job of going green with our cell phones. A few years ago, before the advent of the smart phone, the EPA measured the average life-cycle of a cell phone at 18 months. Today, cell phones have even shorter lives before they are turned in for newer, better versions. That means there are hundreds of millions of phones ready for disposal on a yearly basis. Fortunately, going green with cell phone recycling is easier than ever before.

Cell phones don’t just add volume to a landfill—they also raise environmental questions about the potential for dangerous chemicals from the phones seeping into our soil and water. The coatings on cell phones typically contain lead, a toxic material that can cause damage to the nervous system and adversely affect child development.

The circuit board on the phone can be made of copper, gold, lead, zinc, beryllium, tantalum, coltan, and other raw materials which require significant energy to mine and manufacture. In many cases, they are scarce resources, which is why it is important to source them from older cell phones when possible. Although many batteries today are lithium ion, some still contain cadmium, a human carcinogen that can lead to lung and liver damage.

Recycling options are plentiful with many cell phone retailers and service providers offering on-site cell phone drop boxes. Other options include electronics retailers, schools, and local charities. Call2Recycle is a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program funded by manufacturers in the industry. They offer 30,000 sites nationwide and can be contacted at 877-2-RECYCLE. Although it isn’t yet a federal law, some states including California and New Jersey have passed laws requiring cell phone recycling.

If you are on the path to going green, before you purchase a new cell phone, contemplate if you really need a new one or if you could hold onto it for a few more months or even years. Extending the life of your own cell phone is one way to reduce the chemicals and metals used to make the phones. Once you are ready to purchase a new cell phone, make certain you wipe your data off the phone and recycle it.

For answers to other environmental questions, visit Going Green Today for a 90-day customized action plan that can help you protect your health, save money, and reduce your impact on the Earth.

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