Where Does Your Recycled Phone End Up?

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Technology develops at a rapid rate and we are constantly updating the devices that we use, but what happens to the old version of our new tech toys? When you buy a new phone, does your old version lay forgotten in a drawer?

It’s time to do something about the cell phone graveyard you are hoarding and get to recycling!

In the US alone, more than 130 million cell phones are retired each year. And, in 2003, less than 1% of these phones were actually recycled! (Statistics taken from USGS cell phone fact sheet.) These statistics don’t look great for the environment, but there’s moment to increase that number significantly.

Assuming you are one of the green few who have been recycling your cell phones, have you ever wondered just what happens to your recycled phone?

Most companies now offer a ‘take-back’ program whereby they will take your old phone and recycle it for you, sometimes offering you a cash rebate. When your phone arrives with a take-back facility, a decision will be made as to the usability of your phone. If the phone is still workable, it will be refurbished and then resold or sent to a charity.

A prime example of the type of charity that accepts cell phones is Verizon’s HopeLine program. The program donates phones with 3,000 free minutes to victims of domestic violence.

Refurbished phones are also resold in countries like Africa, where newer devices aren’t as readily available.

If your phone really has gone to cell phone heaven, fear not! It can still be disposed of responsibly! The phone will be broken down and any usable parts will be sold. Any parts that can’t be used will be sent to a smelter to be melted down. The liquids are then separated in order to be reconstituted. This process does produce some greenhouse gases but the smelting process produces environmental and monetary costs that are far lower than other mining processes. Typically, 1 ton of gold ore contains just .18 ounces of gold, but 1 ton of cell phone circuitry contains 40 times that amount.

When recycling your phone, it’s imperative that you are aware of where the company you choose will send your phone. Some recycling facilities in China and Africa have been found to dismantle devices without correct environmental protection, or even protection for their workers, and have even disposed of waste in open fires.

To prevent this, aim to recycle your cell phone through companies that don’t export non-working phones to developing countries, like Best Buy. Best Buy puts a lot of emphasis on environmental compliance and requires all of its partners, including third-party partners, to submit documentation stating their environmental compliance.

The rate at which technology is developing is something we can all be grateful for, but if we continue to dispose of our old tech devices incorrectly we will end up paying for it.

Sure, stay connected with 4g phones, but make sure you are recycling your old phones correctly to keep your tech clean!

Image: cell phone recycling image via Shutterstock

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