Early cellphones allowed users to do two things: make calls and receive calls. Today, cellphones are multifunctional and essential tools for modern life. They keep us connected, entertained, informed, and organized.
But for all that our cellphones do, our relationship isn’t a long-term one. Millions of cellphone users across the world replace their cellphones annually. South Korea ranks the highest in cellphone turnover rates with 28 percent of new mobile users replacing their phones every year. This rate is higher than the – already high – average 18.1 percent rate of the United States, Canada and Australia.
The problem is only 11.7 million—a paltry eight percent—of those mobile devices will likely be collected for recycling, reports the U.S. EPA. Data security concerns and a lack of awareness about the available options likely contribute to this low recycling rate. But when a new product launch turns your previously state-of-the-art cellphone into a paperweight, recycling is a good idea not just for the environment, but for your pocketbook as well.
Small device, big impact
As with other electronic devices, mobile phones rely on precious metals, copper, glass, plastic, and other materials to deliver the performance users expect. Extracting and processing these materials to manufacture cellphone components is energy-intensive and contributes to air and water pollution.
However, recycling recovers these materials so they can be used in new products. The U.S. EPA estimates that recycling 1 million mobile phones reclaims 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium for future use.
Unused, but not useless
Unwanted but still functional devices and accessories can be traded in for cash or donated. Zombie Phone from Sims Recycling is the most recent online consumer cellphone buyback service, allowing individuals to sell their used mobile devices and receive fast payments. Old cellphones, regardless of age or model, can also be dropped off at a retailer or at a community electronics collection event for recycling.
“If you are holding onto an old cellphone with no plans to use it again, it is worth sending it in sooner than later for payment,” stated Gilliam Els, mobile device manager for Sims Recycling Solutions. “Cellphones lose value quickly as newer technologies are introduced, so to guarantee the best price possible for your old phone, it is advised to recycle it right away.”
Another option is to return the device to the original cellphone manufacturer, service provider, or retailer. Many offer return value for older device models. To participate in one of these take-back programs, visit the company’s website to learn more about their recycling services.
Data security concerns and a lack of awareness about the available options likely contribute to this low recycling rate. But when a new product launch turns your previously state-of-the-art cellphone into a paperweight, recycling is a good idea not just for the environment, but for your pocketbook as well.
After phones are dropped off or mailed back, they are usually shipped to a recycling facility for inspection. Working devices will be refurbished and returned to service. Cellphones broken beyond repair will be taken apart and the reusable materials recovered and recycled.
Your phone, your identity
Mobile phones allow instant and unlimited access to personal and business information. A recent infographic reveals that:
- 92 percent of smartphone users send or receive text messages on their phones
- 84 percent browse the internet, and
- 76 percent send or receive emails
This vulnerability of data—such as contact lists, emails, texts, bank account and credit card information—can lead to an increased risk of identity theft and consumer fraud if left intact on a discarded device.
To reduce this risk, follow these steps prior to parting with your phone.
- Backup the data you want to keep.
- Contact your wireless carrier to terminate your service.
- Delete stored information from the phone by following device-specific instructions.
- Remove the SIM card and shred it.
- Use a certified electronics recycler, such as Sims Recycling.
This will ensure that special care is taken to destroy all data on the phone before being recycled. For more information, contact your service provider or cellphone manufacturer. Your mobile device does everything for you today. With a bit of knowledge and a few simple steps, you can protect yourself when it comes time to upgrade – while also protecting the environment and your own bottom line.
Steve Skurnac is the president of Sims Recycling Solutions, a global provider of electronics reuse and recycling services.