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Saying Goodbye to an Old, Clunky, Digital Friend

2010 April 2

My first cell phone was a clunky, monstrous thing that looked like a cross between a radio and a remote control. I barely ever used it, and as I upgraded to sleeker, more versatile phones year after year, Ol’ Clunky sat in a box in my closet, gathering dust. When my phone took a plunge into the sink recently, I took out my box of forgotten cell phones for a temporary replacement. To my dismay, the only cell phone that still worked was Ol’ Clunky.

My friends regarded my use of this decade-old device with awed reverence. “You realize that this should be in a museum, right?” They would ask. A better question to ask would be, “Why do you have a box-full of broken cell phones,” and “Why haven’t you bothered to recycle any of them?” I don’t have good answers to these questions, but I do know that for this year’s EPA National Cell Phone Recycling Week, which runs from Monday 4/5- Sunday 4/11, I’ll be dropping my old cell phones off at the nearest cell-phone recycling spot.

EPA and its Plug-In partners, including AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Samsung Mobile, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and RecyleBank, are holding a series of activities across the country during National Cell Phone Recycling Week. From in-store collection events to mail-in opportunities, people can unload all their unwanted cellular devices and benefit the environment at the same time. By recycling cell phones, we conserve materials, prevent air and water pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that occur during the manufacturing process. When cell phones are recycled, the precious metals, copper, and plastics are used to create new cell phones. Judging by how heavy Ol’ Clunky is, he might very well contain a decent amount of recyclable materials.

On average, only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled annually, with an estimated 58 million cell phones sitting in storage and not being used. While I know I should have recycled my devices eons ago, better late than never, right? I guess I’ll miss Ol’ Clunky, but I know he and I will meet again one day. Only this time, he’ll be part of a snazzier, upgraded phone, and not some forgotten relic in back of my closet.

For information on National Cell Phone Recycling Week:
www.epa.gov/cellphones

For information on where you can donate or recycle your cell phones:
www.epa.gov/ecycling

About the author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and has been hoarding her old cell phones since 2002.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Al Bannet permalink
    April 3, 2010

    Ms. Chou:

    This sort of thing is always done after the fact of accumulating tons of trash that cause various problems. Wouldn’t it make better sense to establish a global policy of 100% recycling of all waste and garbage BEFORE pollution problems come to the surface? Otherwise, aren’t we just waiting for a global saturation point of no return?

  2. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    April 3, 2010

    Its good to recycle the cell phones that are not needed any longer and in California it is illegal to send a cell phone to the landfill or to put it in with regular recyclibles. The cell phone has to be treated as electronic waste. But we also have a special electronic waste recycling program that every one who buys an electronic product contributes something to. So when you are ready to recycle something, you can take it to any electronics store and turn it in. The city also has electronic waste recycling roundups 2 times a year and our local middle school does one once a year. Batteries can’t go to a landfill or regular recycling either. But the city has household battery collection stations at every city facilitiy to take your used batteries from household appliances and toys and recycle them through the city contract recycler. You sound like a friend of mine. He collects cell phones the way other people collect coins or stamps. He has 7 or 8 that work and each with a different phone number and then scores more saved that don’t work any longer. I know when he adds a new one because he gives me a call and has me to wring his new number to see if it works. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. Kay Werner permalink
    April 3, 2010

    Thanks for the reminder about Nat’l Cell Phone Recycling Week. I will have a box set up tomorrow to start collecting them from fellow TSA officers. Wouldn’t it be great to have one at each airport this week? I’m sure that we would collect thousands of them nationwide.

  4. J Green permalink
    April 4, 2010

    While I don’t have a phone nearly as old as “Clunky,” I do have an old phone that has been sitting in my drawer for the past two months. Once I received my updated phone in the mail two months ago, I put my old phone away with the intention that I would just bring it back home once my internship here in Washington D.C. ended. That was of course, until I read this blog post. The EPA’s National Cell Phone Recycling Week is the perfect opportunity to make an environmental difference without requiring any effort. Thousands of people’s former cell-phones just sit in a box and this finally allows the opportunity for the material in these devices to be conserved. Nowadays it is easy enough to purchase a cheap replacement phone so there is no point in storing old ones “just to play it safe” in case something were to happen to it. Instead, they can be put to good use which is what I and hopefully the rest of the D.C. community will choose to do. Thank you for bringng this to my attention!

  5. Keith McCain permalink
    April 5, 2010

    I would agree that old cell phones be recycled accordingly, but also more recent ones that are high in emissions. Unfortunately most of the cell phones in current society emit high radiation. At this point in technology they should find a way to reduce the radiation and supply consumers with a safe way of communication. For that all poorly designed cell phones which emit high radiation should be disposed of. Think about it…most of the cell phone users now a days are young children who are still growing and maturing hormonally. I don’t think high radiation cell phone technology is going to be a good thing.

    Warm Regards,

    Keith McCain

  6. Rob Sanchez permalink
    April 5, 2010

    Recycling old broken phones is great, but whatever happen to re-use?

  7. wade harter permalink
    April 5, 2010

    How many cell phones are sold each year in the USA? I am guessing over 50 million. Now how many are made in USA? I am guessing under a million. Can anyone remember, or do we want to remember, when the USA was going to be the world leader in technology. Well looks like this is now only a dream. Boy could we use the jobs that are overseas making our phones.

  8. Ambrosia Brown permalink
    April 7, 2010

    I think it is very wasteful to get a new phone every year to get the latest model when the old one works fine. Only once have I ever gotten a new phone before my old one completely died (the ringer/talk volume is stuck on it). I keep that phone around just in case something happens to my current phone.

    However, they seem to make phones that last as long as a phone contract. That seems wasteful as well. The older cell phones used to last a lot longer. Yea, they were larger and heavier, but they were a lot more sturdy. I actually prefer the old phones, but I am one of those weirdos who primarily use their cell to talk on. Shocking, I know…

  9. Al Bannet permalink
    April 8, 2010

    They’re really just addictive toys designed to wear out soon so the business can grow exponentially with the growing turnover. I shun all such nonsensical technology.

  10. lapss321 permalink
    November 19, 2010

    Nowadays it is easy enough to purchase a cheap replacement phone so there is no point in storing old ones “just to play it safe” in case something were to happen to it. Instead, they can be put to good use which is what I and hopefully the rest of the D.C. community will choose to do. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  11. Mobile Phones permalink
    November 24, 2010

    Nice blog you have here. I never knew you could recycle your old mobile phones. Thanks for the great information for sustainability!

  12. May 20, 2012

    Thanks for the reminder about Nat’l Cell Phone Recycling Week. I will have a box set up tomorrow to start collecting them from fellow TSA officers. Wouldn’t it be great to have one at each airport this week? I’m sure that we would collect thousands of them nationwide.

  13. June 17, 2012

    I would agree that old cell phones be recycled accordingly, but also more recent ones that are high in emissions. Unfortunately most of the cell phones in current society emit high radiation. At this point in technology they should find a way to reduce the radiation and supply consumers with a safe way of communication. For that all poorly designed cell phones which emit high radiation should be disposed of. Think about it…most of the cell phone users now a days are young children who are still growing and maturing hormonally. I don’t think high radiation cell phone technology is going to be a good thing.

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