In this era of “latest and greatest” it’s a snap to get a new mobile phone. With app and contact migration easier than ever, many of us are acquiring a new cell phone every year or two. But what happens to your old mobile once you’ve transferred all your data over to the new one? If you’re like me, you promptly forget about them, then over the years find them squirreled away in the strangest spots (the car, the junk drawer, the closet). It’s almost inevitable given this high turnover that an appalling number of old cellular phones just wind up tossed in the garbage. The numbers are staggering. In the United States alone, 350,000 cell phones are dumped in landfills every day making electronic waste one of the fastest-growing types of garbage in America.
And once you start looking at international figures, the outlook gets even grimmer. According to Gartner, mobile phone sales worldwide reached nearly 468 million units in 2011. This is more than double the figure of 172 million units just two years ago.
When dumped in a landfill, the average cellphone becomes a dirty little time-release capsule. It begins to leach lead and other heavy metals into the water table, which are eventually stored in the tissues of plants, animals, and people. A grand total of 140 million cell phones – an astonishing four cell phones per second – will be dumped in landfills this year, depositing a full 40 tons of lead into surrounding communities.
Fortunately, there is a better way. An impressive 80 percent of a cell phone’s components are actually recyclable, according to the GSM Association, a mobile telecom organization. Although only a paltry 10 percent of tossed mobile phones are recycled, each one is chock full of valuable minerals like platinum, copper and gold. There is an environmental imperative to make more consumer-friendly mobile phone recycling programs widely available, particularly since the adoption (and subsequent disposal) of cell phones only expected to increase dramatically going forward. To address this growing need, a handful of recycling pioneers have launched programs that address the ecological and financial impact of inappropriately discarded cell phones.
A host of companies and not-for-profit groups are offering programs for mobile device recycling and repurposing, many tailored for specific environmental and community concerns. With all these options to choose from, cell phone users now have a wealth of options when determining how best to discard of their old mobile devices.
Major carriers like Verizon and Sprint have taken the lead, unveiling expansive national recycling and repurposing programs. Verizon’s HopeLine program has teamed up with mobile phone recycler Communications Wireless Group (CWG) to contribute refurbished devices to low-income families. Sprint has excelled at the numbers game, recycling and redistributing over 28 million devices through 2010 via the Sprint Re:cycle program, by distributing cash rebates to anyone purchasing a new phone and exchanging.
For the indie-minded, there are plenty of options out there. A Google search for “cell phone recycling” provides 8.6 million results, from reseller organizations that use the profits to fund charitable programs, to corporations providing rebates for new cell phones. While there are a whole host of options out there, taking the steps to actively mail your phone in can be a hurdle for even the most well-intentioned.
For the convenience-minded, retailers like RadioShack and Best Buy offer cell-phone recycling stations in-store, so you can drop off your old handset when you purchase a new one, with the peace of mind from knowing it will be repurposed or recycled.
Similarly, local thrift stores and community charities are making it easier to donate an old mobile phone with a good conscience. Leaders like Goodwill and the Salvation Army make electronics donation bins available at neighborhood donation centers, allowing people to discard their old cellular devices while they’re dropping off crates of old books. Donated devices are then resold or furbished through local partners like ReCellular.
Some retailers are inspired to bring the concept of in-store recycling to a new plane. We at iQmetrix have partnered with Flipswap, a cellphone repurposer, to manage mobile phone trade-ins at participating retail locations. The Flipswap feature in our RQ4 Retail Management solution instantly calculates the value of your old mobile device and refunds you that amount at the point of sale. The phones are then refurbished and resold or recycled.
“Everyone has a drawer of phones at home, and they might not realize the effect that they can have on the environment,” says Channa Ming, Manager of Channel Marketing for Flipswap. “People know they shouldn’t throw phones in the trash but it’s not obvious what to do with them instead. We’re happy to take care of them.”
If more programs like these become successful, our environment might finally get a relief from the sheer number of phones ending up in landfills every year. And as Channa observed, while the problem is common, the solution is finally beginning to take off.
Christopher Krywulak is the CEO and founder of iQmetrix. At iQmetrix, we are passionate about retail. Our purpose is to create great experiences for retailers, their employees and the end consumer. Our products bridge the gap between physical and virtual retail channels, offering the latest in retail management and customer experience technology. XQ Interactive Retail brings elements of online and mobile shopping experiences into the physical store to engage and educate shoppers during the purchase process. RQ4 Retail Management is a complete system for managing all aspects of a store chain operation, including POS, ERP, inventory and HR. When integrated specifically for wireless retailers, XQ and RQ allow users to effectively manage back-of-house operations and the in-store customer experience. Founded in 1999, iQmetrix is a privately-held software as a service (SaaS) company with offices in Canada and the United States. www.iQmetrix.com. Photo by Yutaka Tsutano