Maybe you've worn it out by making who-knows-how-many calls and sending even more emoticon-filled text messages. Or maybe you just want to upgrade to a higher-octane model. Whatever the case, you're ready to get rid of your old cellphone, and you find yourself asking the question, "How can I recycle my phone?"
Fortunately, you have plenty of options, from dropping it off at a national retailer to mailing it to a service provider or donating it to a charity. "Cellphone recycling is one of the easiest things an individual can do to help protect and conserve natural resources," says Jennifer Childress, director of marketing and communications for Call2Recycle, an Atlanta-based, cell-phone-recycling program.
The big picture
Sadly, cellphone recycling is not the norm in this country. In 2009, only about 8 percent of the cellphones discarded in the United States were recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rest were either landfilled or placed in storage, the agency says; nearly 20,000 tons of cellphones were discarded in 2009.
For years, environmental groups have raised concerns about placing cellphones — and other types of electronic waste — in landfills, citing the presence of materials such as lead, cadmium and mercury that could conceivably harm the surrounding environment by, for instance, contaminating nearby groundwater supplies. On its website, the EPA states that placing electronic waste in "municipal solid waste landfills does not threaten human health and the environment." However, the agency also notes that it "strongly support[s] keeping used electronics out of landfills, to recover materials and reduce the environmental impacts and energy demands from mining and manufacturing." Recycling 1 million cellphones recovers more than 35,000 pounds of copper, nearly 800 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold, which in turn saves enough energy to supply approximately 185 households with electricity for an entire year, EPA says.
Drop it off
Recycling your cellphone can be as simple as dropping it off at a place just down the street. Call2Recycle is a program in which retailers, businesses and governmental agencies agree to accept used cellphones and rechargeable batteries from consumers for free. Participating companies include Lowe's, Home Depot, Best Buy and RadioShack. To find a collection spot near you, visit Call2Recycle.org. Most cell service providers and phone manufacturers also provide recycling programs in partnership with the EPA's Plug-In to e-Cycling initiative. For detailed information on these programs, some of which allow you to mail in your phone, visit the Plug-In website.
Also check with your local government to see if it has a permanent recycling facility that accepts cellphones or if it hosts periodic events at which phones and other kinds of electronic waste are collected for recycling.
Give to charity
Many organizations accept old phones to help those in need. For instance, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and ReCellular collect, refurbish and sell used cellphones to fund NCADV programs. Verizon's HopeLine cell-phone-recycling program also aids domestic-violence victims, and Cell Phones for Soldiers sells donated phones to a recycler and uses the proceeds to buy calling cards for soldiers serving overseas. For information on other charitable organizations that accept phone donations, visit this page on consumer advocate Clark Howard's website.
Before you let go
Regardless of whom you give your cellphone to, there are some steps you need to take before you do so to ensure your security. The EPA recommends either manually deleting all of the information on the phone and removing the SIM card or using a program such as ReCellular's Cell Phone Data Eraser to wipe your contacts and other data from the phone. Also, remember to terminate your service contract for the phone, the agency urges.
For more on how to recycle your phone, visit The EPA's eCycling page.