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Cell Phone Recycling

Cell Phone Recycling

October 8, 2007 —

More than 200 million cell phones are in use in the U.S., and approximately 130 million phones will be retired each year. According to a study by the non-profit organization INFORM, Inc., a total of 500 million used cell phones weighing more than 250,000 tons were estimated to be awaiting disposal in 2005.  Cell phones contain hazardous substances, which can pollute the air when burned in incinerators and leach into soil and drinking water when buried in landfills.

One of the major problems in regards to recycling cell phones is that a majority of Americans are unaware that such an option exists.  According to recent reports, approximately 70 percent of Americans have not been informed that they can recycle their old cell phones.  Many activists argue that responsibility for disseminating such information should fall on the cell phone companies, especially since customers are often forced to buy new phones if they change carriers.  A California law requires phone carriers to offer consumers a means to return a phone so it can be reused or recycled, but there seems to be little initiative from the companies themselves.

Cell phones contain toxic metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper and nickel and should not be disposed of in the trash.   According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), the cell phone industry's trade group, there are more than 230 million people currently registered as cell phone users. The U.S. does not have a single standard wireless phone network technology, and most cell phones are designed to work on only one type of network.  Several cell phone companies operate on compatible networks, but freedom of movement for most consumers is often denied between compatible networks because some of the largest cell phone companies put software "locks" on phones to prevent consumers from taking their business elsewhere. While this is not only unfair to consumers and anti-competitive, it also causes consumers to purchase new phones.

According to Consumers Union, some wireless carriers in the United States install software on the phones they sell to prevent that phone (also called the "handset") from working on another network, even if that network uses a compatible technology. These locks often require consumers to purchase a new phone if they switch services.  Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said: "Cell phones, iPods, computers and many other modern electronic devices have a useful life of maybe a year or two before they become obsolete. It doesn't make sense to use hazardous materials in these disposable devices."

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