Recycle your cell phone for planet, people or profit

(first published January 2008, last updated November 2010)

In some states, it’s illegal to dump your cell phone in the bin.. and for very good reason.

The average lifespan of a phone in the USA is around 18 months. They don’t stop working (I was still using one from 2001 in 2008 at times) – it’s just that people simply want the latest and greatest features that marketers convince us we must have (perceived obsolescence); although with the latest generation of phones, I have to admit some of the features are very handy indeed.
However, our new, top of line phone that we pay $xxx for is relatively worthless in a very short time; so the phones are often stashed away or thrown out with the household rubbish. With the gift giving season coming up, a stack more cell phones are headed for the drawer or the bin.

While the cell phone industry has created a lot of jobs, the level of consumption has also created an environmental nightmare. Aside from the massive amount of resources used in production, it’s estimated there are over half a billion discarded cell phones in the US – both tucked away or in landfills. In 2008, a survey by Nokia in 13 countries found that only 3% of people recycle their mobile phones.

Some of the toxins your phone may include:

– Lead
– Mercury
– Arsenic
– Cadmium
– Brominated compounds
– Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
– Antimony
– Beryllium
– Barium
– Selenium
– Chromium

When disposed of in landfill, these chemicals leach into the soil and ground water. Many of the toxic compounds in cell phones are persistent and bio-accumulative. They build up in the fatty tissues of creatures, and then are concentrated at the top of the food chain.

Cell phone recycling is easy

There’s so many recycling options now for cell phones in most countries. The phones are either:

repurposed – e.g. given to charities
refurbished – spruced up and then resold, sometimes to people in poorer countries who can’t afford the latest models
recycled – precious metals, plastics etc. extracted.

Finding a method of recycling that suits you is as easy as going to your favorite search engine and typing

location cell phone recycling


location mobile phone recycling

.. where location is your town or state. Often organizations will send you a prepaid envelope to put your phone in, so it’s very convenient. Increasing numbers of telecommunications shops have recycling bins in-store.

Short on cash? You don’t have to recycle your phone without anything in return.

Cash for your cell phone

Some recycling and refurbishing companies will pay you cash for your phone. Here’s some services that will either pay you directly or connect you with companies that will:

USA: Cell For Cash
Canada: CellCycle
UK: RecycleMobilePhones
Australia: MazumaMobile

Perhaps you could do a cell phone drive in your street, school or club? It can be a good fundraising exercise!

There’s gold in them thar phones!

Here’s an interesting factoid. According to the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan; 230 grams of gold can be recovered from 1 ton of old cell phones; yet 1 ton of mining waste only generates 62 grams of gold. At today’s gold price, one ton of phones has approximately USD$10,000 worth of gold in it; but extracting the gold yourself isn’t something you’d want to try yourself – it’s a dangerous process.

Recycling your cell phone makes sense on so many levels – from environmental, health, financial and right through to humanitarian benefits.