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Cell Phone Recycling in America, Why Not?

June 10th, 2008 · 6 Comments

I was looking at the statistics on cell phone recycling the other day, and I was amazed at the percentage of people here in the US who don’t recycle their cell phones.

The data is staggering when you consider the actual number of cell phones now rotting in our landfills or gathering dust in our drawers and closets, today.

I’m referring to the cell phone recycling study conducted by iSuppli Corporation that I used as reference in one of the earlier posts here. With an estimated 700 million used cell phones in America today and 125 million added to the heap every year, it’s utterly incomprehensible why people refuse to recycle cell phones. In that study, a staggering 36.8% declared that they stored their cell phones somewhere, 10.2 percent said they threw their cell phones away or lost these, and only 9.4 percent recycled their used cell phones. The study was conducted in the last quarter of 2007 but if we extrapolate those figures to apply to the entire year, that would mean 36 million cell phones stashed in our drawers and 10 million cell phones dumped into our landfills from 2007 alone!

To find out why we have such a low cell phone recycling rate in the US, I went out and asked some people in several forums. Here are some of the answers I got:

Question: Does cell phone recycling work for you?


No, I didn’t even know there’s such a thing as cell phone recycling.

That’s something for us to think about. There’s a lot of people out there who have no idea that cell phone recycling is possible or even necessary, at all. We need to establish some serious information dissemination campaign here. The EPA campaign was a good one – we need to reinforce that. My next two posts will feature the why and how of cell phone recycling, so stay tuned.

Question: Do you recycle your used cell phones?


No. It’s so inconvenient. Here’s what I suggest to the cell phone companies. Why don’t they glue  pre-paid label at the back of  cell phone batteries and when the time comes to  retire a cell phone, the user can just detach that label, box the phones, and accessories, and ship them back to the manufacturer. Don’t expect me to dig up an envelope that came with the original box, I probably threw it away a long time ago.

That’s an original suggestion, and it’s worth a look by the cell phone makers. Convenience is the driving force of most of our market and technology innovations. Why should cell phone recycling be any different? My friend, Tommy, an NYPD police officer, recycling activist, and news junkie I met in Digg last year, however, says this is a lame excuse. Here’s his take:

You go shopping, right? You buy groceries, you buy new phones? Well, then. Look around. Most department stores and groceries, and cell phone retail outlets now have cell phone collection boxes located in the most convenient places in their establishments. These are boxes that go directly to manufacturers, or are sponsored by some charity, or by the cell phone recycling companies. How inconvenient and out-of-the-way is that?

Question: Why don’t you recycle cell phones?


I don’t know, may be I don’t like the idea of someone making money from it. I see cell phone recycling posters tucked in our university bulletin boards, with those pre-paid envelopes hanging off them, and I wanted to rip them out and thrash them – it all smells of a for-profit scheme.

It’s this common misconception that  I find particularly amusing. How do you hope to enlist and pay the vast armies of recycling workers if there’s no funding to begin with? It’s the spirit of free enterprise at work here, and we shouldn’t begrudge those who are in the business of cell phone recycling if they gain some profit off the enterprise. I personally know people who started large-scale cell phone recycling companies out of a genuine desire to protect the environment, and to be honest, we need more of these guys, today.

But, here’s the thing. All of them agree that without a certain level of profitability, they won’t be able to sustain their initiatives. It’s not recycling, if no money is generated out of it. By definition, recycling – reduce, reuse, recycle – the recycling loop gets closed or completed once new products (made or refurbished out of recycled materials) are resold back into the market and used again by people.

I think if recyclers like us and people who are concerned with environmental protection and solid waste reduction ever hope to increase the cell phone recycling rate in this country from the dismal 9.4 percent it is today or stop those 10 million people from dumping poison to our landfills this year, every one should pitch in to spread the word. Not knowing should no longer be an excuse.

If you’re an individual reading this, go tell someone – a family member, a friend. If you’re a blogger, blog about it. Start a drive, use your blog’s popularity to spread the word. Do something.

Ok, guys, I’ve been doing some serious pontificating here, I guess. 🙂 It’s your turn. Tell me what you think, share your opinion. How do we make cell phone recycling work?

Tags: Cell Phone Recycling

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 web design company // Jun 10, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Why not recycle all electronic equipments. Add small mandatory recycling pawn $1 – $10 (depending on the cost of the electronic equipmnent) to all electical appliances. You get it back whey your recycle it. Same for cars. In Finland they add 400 EUR pawn for the price of every new car. There is no old cars lying down in forests when you get 400 EUR for it.

  • 2 Sathya // Oct 7, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Really good article. I have been following your blog for last 3 months. You have good knowledge
    on Mobile(cell phone) Industry and happenings. Please continue the good work. Thank you.

  • 3 Cell Mod // Oct 21, 2008 at 6:17 am

    I think everyone should try there best to support this idea.

    The chemicals released by electronics can have severe affects on the surrounding area, and are generally no disposed of in the appropriate way!

    I send all my old phones to a charity that in turn send them to developing countries 😉

  • 4 Aluminum Recycling - Reaching New Heights | Pacebutler Blog // Nov 23, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    […] produced here in the US. Aluminum recycling has one of the highest recovery rates (compared to cell phone recycling, for example, which only has a dismal 9.4% recycling rate). However, the amount of 46% un-recycled […]

  • 5 Funeral Homes // Jan 30, 2009 at 12:04 am

    It’s definitely important that people realize the importance of recycling things like cell phones to keep them out of landfills. I guess most people don’t even realize that it’s something you can or should recycle.

  • 6 Cell Phone Headsets // Aug 4, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    It’s not recycling, if no money is generated out of it. By definition, recycling – reduce, reuse, recycle – the recycling loop gets closed or completed once new products are resold back into the market and used again by people.