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Each year in the United States, over 130 million cell phones are replaced and discarded, contributing an extra 65,000 tons of waste to landfills. In addition, there are over 500 million used cell phones in the US waiting to be discarded or are currently in landfills. The environmental impact of cell phone disposal can be devastating due to the lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic in the cell phone. There are several ways to prevent cell phones from ending up in the landfill, including donation and recycling a phone.
The first way to recycle a cell phone is to send it to a phone recycling company. Companies such as Earthworks receive used cell phones directly from consumers at little to no cost to the consumers. Cell phones in good condition are then refurbished, reset, and then resold. If a cell phone is broken, all working parts are removed by phone recycling companies and then used as replacement parts in refurbished phones. Unusable materials and batteries are then sent to companies that utilize EPA-certified procedures to dispose of these materials in an environmentally friendly way.
The second way to recycle a cell phone is to donate it to a non-profit organization. There are several available non-profit organizations that accept used cell phones. These organizations set the phone back to the original factory defaults and delete all of the previous owner’s information from the phone. The phone is then refurbished and given to people in need, such as women living in domestic violence shelters or senior citizens who only need to use the emergency services features of the phone. The phone can also be refurbished and sold in order to support non-profit programs. The organization Cell Phones for Soldiers collects used cell phones and then sold to companies that recycle cell phones. With the money received from the sales, Cell Phones for Soldiers purchases prepaid calling cards for members of the United States military stationed in the Middle East to allow them to call home to their families.
The third way to recycle a cell phone is to return it to the original carrier. Most major carriers offer ways to trade in old phones for new upgraded cell phones. Even if a trade-in is not possible, cell phone carriers often collect used cell phones and send them to recyclers who are able to remove usable parts and refurbish phones, as well as safely discard unusual parts in a way that is EPA approved.
Finally, any unused cell phones, whether working or not working, can be dropped off at many major retailers for recycling or donation. Retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, and Best Buy often have drop-off points for consumers to place unwanted cell phones, cell phone batteries, chargers, and headsets. These items are then donated to charities that sell cell phones to fund programs or the phones are sent to companies that refurbish or recycle the phones and accessories.
Before choosing to recycle your cell phone, it is best to take a few precautions to ensure the safety of personal data. First, the cell phone owner should be certain that the cell phone service contracted has been terminated for that phone. Even if the phone has been donated, the customer can still be charged for service if the contract was not terminated. Second, manually delete all information from the phone and remove the SIM card. Information that needs to be erased includes the address book, photos, messages, and applications that contain personal information and locations. After all personal data is removed reset the phone to the original factory condition.
With so many options for cell phone recycling, it is easy and convenient to properly dispose of an unwanted phone. In many cases, the unwanted cell phone can even be donated to a charity, giving the consumer a tax deduction for a charitable donation.