Saying Goodbye to an Old, Clunky, Digital Friend

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:

For information on where you can donate or recycle your cell phones:

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.

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