Cell phones are as much a fashion accessory these days as shoes or jewelry. That — and the planned obsolescence of changing technology — means you'll probably change your phone every 18 months to two years. That translates into a lot of potentially toxic e-waste.

PVC, lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and brominated flame retardants ... consumer electronics can be a witches' brew of substances you don't want leaching out of landfills and into your drinking water. Rather than thoughtlessly dropping that old phone into a nearby dumpster or hiding it in a desk drawer, recycle or repurpose it!


Many large electronic stores, including RadioShack, Staples and Best Buy, feature handy drop boxes for unwanted phones and batteries. It's quite possible your cell phone vendor offers a take-back program. Call2recycle maintains a national database of drop-off centers.


Working or repairable cell phones can be a lifeline for seniors and women's shelters. These can be as close as a quick call to organizations listed in your local phone directory. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence accepts phones by mail — as does the seniors' assistance group Phones for Life. You'll find a long list of organizations that will put your old phone to good use at the Electronic Industries Alliance's Consumer Education Initiative.

Finally, it's possible your local community sponsors electronic waste disposal and recycling. Check the government pages in your phone directory.

Respect your own privacy

Cell phones have largely replaced personal digital assistants (PDAs). That makes phones a rich target for unscrupulous identity thieves. Before surrendering a phone for recycling or reuse, delete all of your personal data and make sure it can't be used to access your wireless account. Remember: a cellphone can hold data indefinitely, even when the battery is dead.

Find out how to zero-out your particular cell phone model at WirelessRecycling.com.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008

See related MNN story: Phone recycling: It's easier than ever

See also:

Eco-friendly phones

How to recycle or repurpose your cell phone
Recycle your cell phone. Don't put your worn out cellphone phone in the trash -- it's probably filled with all sorts of toxic nasties.