Getting Rid of Your Old Cell Phones Without Harming the Environment

You see a notice on occasion that a cell-phone recycling program is taking place in your community, but too many of us just let old cell phones pile up in a drawer or supply closet.

The same happens at any number of businesses, large and small. The result is that nearly 800 million cell phones, piling up since 1980, are no longer in use. The bad news is that, eventually, we get tired of seeing old cell phones gathering dust, and far too many of us throw them out with our regular trash.

The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that in a single year, such as 2009, the total number of cell phones disposed of and ending up primarily in landfills is 129 million – or 17,270 tons of old cell phones.

On the opposite side of that equation, the EPA reports that about 11.75 million cell phones were recycled, or about 1,570 tons.

The numbers aren’t too impressive yet, but recycling options for your cell phones are becoming more prominent and consumers have more choices to consider.

Still, understanding the potential damage of not recycling your cell phone is taking some time to sink in. Experts in the land pollution sector of the EPA say that if a cell phone is disposed of improperly, the metals such as lead and cadmium can leach into the ground and pollute drinking water.

On a national scale, only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled. The EPA estimates that for every 1 million cell phones recycled, we could recover 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver and 35,274 pounds of copper. Multiply those figures times the more than 100 million cell phones retired each year and it is easy to see why environmental experts are continuing to push cell phone recycling.

The second annual National Cell Phone Recycling Week was held in early April to raise awareness and decrease the number of cell phones in our landfills. Your community recycling program may accept old phones, as well as nearby phone or electronics stores. There also are numerous web sites that direct people to drop-off sites such as or

You can also find information about cell phone recycling on

The EPA estimates there are 57.8 million old unused cell phones “in storage” in people’s homes. That’s 9,271 tons of valuable material that could be recycled. Turn in your old phones and do your part to keep America from becoming a nation of electronic hoarders.


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