Published on: GreenBiz.com
Date: March 2, 2012
By Christopher Krywulak
What happens to your old phone when you buy a new one? As smartphone features and technology advance, consumers are quickly switching to newer, better, faster phones. Old cellphones are now one of the fastest-growing types of garbage in the United States.
Worldwide smartphone sales are on track to top 467 million units this year alone, according to research firm Gartner. Two years ago, smartphone sales rang in at 172 million units.
This year, more than 140 million cell phones (that's four cellphones per second) will end up in landfills, releasing 40 tons of lead into the earth because of improper disposal methods.
Nearly 80 percent of the materials in a typical cellphone can be recycled, according to the GSM Association, a worldwide mobile communications industry organization. In spite of this clear bonanza, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 10 percent of all unused cellphones were recycled in 2007. For some creative companies, however, recycling and repurposing phones provides a great economic -- and environmental -- incentive.
With the environmental risks from improper cellphone disposal only set to increase in the coming years, there's a clear need for more consumer-friendly cell phone recycling programs that protect the environment. Fortunately, a number of companies and organizations are stepping in. By introducing novel programs to repurpose and recycle mobile phones, these innovators are meeting a diverse spectrum of critical environmental and societal needs.
Large carriers like Verizon (VZ) are partnering with specialized recycling outfits like Communications Wireless Group to provide repurposed phones to low-income families and victims of domestic violence via Verizon's HopeLine program.
A simple Google search for "cell phone recycling" returns more than 10 million results; a slew of vendors are clamoring for your old handset. Some are nonprofits that resell the phones and use the proceeds to buy gift cards for soldiers (for example); others provide you with a direct refund. Many of these companies ask you to mail the phone to them, which can be a barrier for consumers looking for an easier method of disposal.
For this convenience-minded segment of the population, major phone resellers like RadioShack and Best Buy provide basic cellphone "disposal" stations in their stores. Customers looking to get a new phone can toss their old one with peace of mind, knowing that it will be repurposed or recycled.
Local charities are getting into the game as well, with heavy hitters like Goodwill and the Salvation Army providing electronics donation bins where donors can discard old cellphones when they drop off bags of clothing or old books. The collected phones are then either resold, or recycled through local affiliates like ReCellular.
And some retailers are taking the simple in-store recycle box to the next level. We at iQmetrix recently partnered with a mobile-phone-repurposing firm, Flipswap, to offer mobile phone trade-in services at participating iQmetrix clients' retail stores. The Flipswap option in iQmetrix's RQ4 Retail Management solution automatically calculates the value of a customer's old phone and then credits that value to the customer's invoice at the point of sale. The reclaimed phones are then rebuilt and resold, or recycled in an environmentally conscious way.
Programs like these have a shot at making a real dent in cellphone e-waste figures. As one observer points out, while the problem is widespread, the solution is finally beginning to catch up.
"Everyone has a drawer of phones and they don't realize the impact that they can have on the environment," says Channa Ming, Manager of Channel Marketing for Flipswap. "They know they shouldn't throw them in the trash, but they don't know what else to do with them. We're happy to take care of them instead."