Do You Recycle Your Old Cell Phones?

BlogHer Original Post
Stack of cellphones

If you've never recycled a cell phone, you're not alone. Cell phone recycling rates are "amazingly low," according to a study from International Data Corp., which says that even a 10 percent recycling rate is considered good.

As an environmentalist, I'm not convinced this is necessarily bad news. certainly thought the low recycling rates spelled glum news for environmentalists, reporting on the story with this depressing headline: "Mobile phone industry faces a long road to green." But I wasn't so sure about's debbie-downer interpretation. The full study wasn't accessible free online, so I decided to do some of my own anecdotal research into the issue -- by calling up some of my friends.

All of them were green bloggers. And guess what -- All of them had phones they hadn't recycled!

Lest you imagine that all my friends are faux-environmentalists that enjoy chucking old electronics into landfills with an evil mwa-ha-ha-ha, rest assured that none of them have let their retired cell phones slowly leach chemicals into the groundwater either. Instead, my friends are holding on to their cell phones.

Whitney Lauritsen of Eco-Vegan Gal, for example, hasn't recycled a single cell phone -- because she's still holding on to the three she's ever owned. Why? "I have stuff on there -- Photos, notes, or old text messages I should transfer to my computer." Basically, Whitney's using her old phones as mini hard drives for her phone data -- though considering that her oldest phone's about 10 years old, I'm not sure this is data she'll ever actually need again.

Other friends had recycled the majority of their phones -- but kept one old one around in case of a phone emergency. Tracy Hepler of Your Daily Thread says after having a phone break on her before, she always keeps an backup around. "It usually takes like 3 to 5 business days when you mail a phone in to fix it or get it replaced," Tracy says.

So she keeps her old Blackberry around, just in case her Droid goes on the fritz. When she gets a new phone, the Droid will become her backup, and the Blackberry will get recycled. And I too keep my old, beat up LG phone around, in case my Blackberry goes on the fritz. If it does, I'd probably end up just using my LG phone until my current cell phone contract expires and I can get a new free phone with a new contract -- so I don't have to worry about buying (or recycling) yet another phone.

Though I doubt my LG's worth anything, Tracy will probably make a few bucks when she finally recycles that Blackberry. Many online recycling programs will reward you with discounts, rebates, and even cash for sending in a working phone. And sometimes, special rebates will pop up that are worth saving up phones for. That's why some old phones of The Next Big Ng's Jenny still haven't been recycled. Jenny says she gives her phones to her mom, who keeps them around hoping for a good rebate trade-in.

No phones were landfilled during the writing of this post; all my friends say they fully plan to recycle their phones. One day. "Honestly I do plan on recycling them," says Whitney about her three. "I just need to find the time and motivation."

To that end, I'm of the belief that cash incentives are likely the most irresistible incentive for cell phone recycling -- and that those incentives are highest if you recycle sooner rather than later. After all, phones go obsolete pretty fast, as newer models come out!

That means there's an environmental incentive for recycling ASAP too. Your old Blackberry could get refurbished and reused by someone else if you send it in today -- but it'll likely only get taken apart for recycling if you send it in in 2020.

Are you holding on to your old cell phones? How many are hanging out in your home -- and why?


BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at

Photo by heskettk


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