EPA whips up cell phone recycling frenzy

The US Environmental Protection Agency today teamed with cell phone makers, service providers, and retailers in a wide-ranging effort to get users to recycle or donate old cell phones and other hand-held devices. 

The EPA announced the Plug-In to eCycling program and said AT&T Wireless, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, Staples, and T-Mobile would all take part in the program. Vendors and retailers said old phones can be dropped off at retail stores or mailed back to the manufacturers.   The program is meant to spark the recycling effort as most phone companies do offer some sort of device return already.  For specific directions, users can look at specific recycling instructions on these Web sites: Nokia, Sprint, Samsung, T-Mobile, Motorola and LG Electronics.  To listen to the EPA’s podcasts on eCycling, click here

The EPA and its eCycling partners said they would be involved in a year-long campaign to increase capacity and outreach about existing recycling programs; educate the community about the benefits of cell phone recycling, including how and where the phones can be recycled; and work with communities to hold special cell phone collection drives and events.   

The agency said there is an estimated 100 to 130 million cell phones are no longer being used.  Nokia for example says most of its old phones – 48% -- are in customers’ homes, taking up  drawer space. It also says 27% are currently returned to the vendor when customers upgrade phones.  

The EPA said it spending its $175,000 on the campaign and targeting cell phone recycling because, despite the large number of programs, most users still do not know where or how they can recycle their cell phones. Consequently, less than 20% of unwanted cell phones are recycled each year. Reusing 100 million cell phones would save enough energy to power more than 370,000 U.S. homes each year, the EPA stated in a release.  

Recycling cell phones also helps the environment by saving energy and keeping useable and valuable materials out of landfills and incinerators. Cell phones are made from precious metals, copper, and plastics—all of which require energy to mine and manufacture, the EPA said.  Recycling these materials not only conserves resources, but prevents air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.   

Many communities also offer cell phone donation programs.  For information on one national program, click here.

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