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Don’t Let That Used Phone Go To Waste

2013 November 14

By Lina Younes

The other day, I was looking through the newspaper ads checking out cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronics. Even though I’m not planning to buy anything special right now, I like to see what the market has to offer. The latest developments in mobile technology and electronics are hard to resist, though, even for the most frugal shopper. It’s funny, but when I even hint at getting new cell phones for the family, my children quickly declare that the new features are “must-haves.”

While the new features and available applications might be great, think carefully about whether you really need a new phone. Is your current phone damaged beyond repair, or can you still use it? Have you thought of donating or recycling it?

Electronic products, like cell phones and computers, contain valuable materials like precious metals. By recycling them, you can conserve natural resources and avoid water and air pollution generated during the manufacturing process. Recycling a million cell phones means we can recover 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. In turn, these recovered materials can be reused to manufacture new products.

Some retailers offer the option to donate or recycle electronics at their stores. You can check out which companies have recycling centers in your area.  Community organizations also work with retailers to host e-cycling events. You’d be surprised how many electronics are recycled at these events.

If you decide that your current cell phone is perfectly fine and you don’t need a new one, we might have a green mobile app available for you. Check out our site for nearly 300 apps that will help you understand and protect the environment. This green technology is just a click away.

 About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    November 14, 2013

    Great Article Linda,
    I was especially interested in your data “Recycling a million cell phones means we can recover 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.” Was that an industry average, or is that based on a particular phone: Like an Iphone or Adroid, etc?
    Brian

  2. David Stone permalink
    November 14, 2013

    Hi Lina,

    Thank you for your helpful article. As an environmental scientist working on material recycling (on an EPA-funded project), I would like to see us go beyond the relatively easy stuff like paper, plastic, and glass. Regarding cell phones and other electronics specifically, besides the metals you mention there is also a scarce mineral I am concerned about: coltan. There has been a lot of coverage about the disturbing social problems that are associated with its supply line, especially in the Congo. Is coltan being recycled? What are the latest environmental and social perspectives on this material?

    Thanks,
    David

  3. Lina-EPA permalink*
    November 14, 2013

    Thanks for your comments. Here are some additional facts: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm

    Here’s some additional information: http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/smm/electronics/index.htm

    Lina-EPA

  4. wade permalink
    November 15, 2013

    As the environmental engineer for our company I am 100% for recycling but also as a mechanical engineer I have to be cost conscious so as to maintain market competitiveness. Figuring the worth of the recovered metals I come up with some $2,250,000. I would say that we would spend several hours (collecting, shipping, sorting, recovering, packaging, reshipping, etc) but if it took only one (1) hour per unit the cost would be somewhere around $20,000,000. My company would go broke at this rate.

  5. slamet riyadi permalink
    November 16, 2013

    Recycle unused items into useful new stuff would be so beneficial to mankind. If it is not medically dangerous, then we must support the movement to recycle electronic goods such as mobile phones.
    Thanks,
    Slamet Riyadi

  6. ganoderma kafes permalink
    November 18, 2013

    Great Article Linda!!
    Thank you very much for this useful article and the comments. I love this site as it contains good materials.

  7. sarahmb permalink
    November 20, 2013

    This is a really interesting article Linda. Recycling is becoming more important than ever as we realize there are efficient ways to recycle devices, such as cell phones, which the majority of Americans own. As materialistic as we as a society are individuals tend to not keep a cell phone longer than 2 years. With technology further developing I wonder if we will be able to even make all of the devices of the future with the materials we have now or will we run out? Companies need to tell employees along with customers the good recycling devices can do for the environment and for sustainability. Also out of curiosity, do stores determine themselves whether a phone is more beneficial to sell or recycle? Does water damage affect a cell phones ability to be recycled?

  8. Moldoveanu Tudor permalink
    November 23, 2013

    Very interesting and useful tips I think.I read step by step this informations and help me so much.Thank you for this great informations

  9. Bennie permalink
    July 4, 2014

    Kids do better than us regarding all the latest features of phones and smartphones. I admit too that it is always tempting just looking at those phone advertisements.

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