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Five Easy Ways to Recycle Your Cell Phone

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Admit it–you went out and bought an iPhone when they were still $599 (and if you didn’t, you’re probably headed out to get one now for $399). So what did you do with your old cell phone? The worst thing you could have done is toss it in the trash; the EPA warns that cell phones and their casings contain toxic substances including arsenic, lead, and cadmium that end up in landfills. And since they estimate over 130 million cell phones are retired every year, that’s one big poisonous mess on our hands.

Perhaps, like many people, you stuffed your old phone into a drawer, intending to recycle it later. Here are 5 ways to do it now:

Go to the Zoo : Louisville-based start-up Eco-Cell helps organizations fundraise through phone recycling. The company began focusing on zoos two years ago, and has collected nearly 60,000 cell phones. What’s the connection to the zoo? It’s a little known fact that cell phones contain a mineral called coltan. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the cell phone boom has devastated the gorilla habitat. When Eco-cell’s president learned about this, the zoo program seemed to be a natural fit, and to date they’ve raised over $90,000 for conservation through the zoo program.

Help the Troops Phone Home: Cell Phones for Soldiers was started in 2004 by two teenages from Massachusetts with $21 in pocket money. Cell phones are donated to ReCellular, who gives the program 1 hour or talk time from Iraq for every phone. So far it’s raised over $1 million in donations and has distributed over 400,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers fighting overseas. The program hopes to raise $9 million over the next five years and expand the service to video phones. The website tells you where to find a donation center near you, or you can mail in your phone for free.

Ebay, ebay. ebay: When in doubt, remember that your trash is another man’s treasure. Just make sure to carefully wipe all the stored information off of there first–many cell phone donation sites have instructions on how to do this, or you could use mobile security software, like the one from Trust Digital.

Trade Up: There are numerous sites falling over themselves to take your old phone off your hands (most offer free shipping) and pay you to do it. You could walk away with the money (a Blackberry 7100i will get you $70 on, a more pedestrian Motorola 3100 fetches $11), or trade it in. Sites like allow you trade-in for another used phone or buy one new. Either way it’s a better deal than leaving that obsolete-and-slowly-leaking-chemical-substances old phone in your junk drawer.

Clear the Air: San Francisco based start-up TerraPass is known for giving drivers an opportunity to calculate their carbon footprints and offset their pollution by buying “terrapasses”–certificates that fund clean air projects around the country (you can also attempt to carbon-neutralize everything from your home’s electricity to–yes really–your wedding). They have now partnered with RIPMobile to collect old cell phones in exchange for passes. The phones are recycled, and you get to put one of their stickers up in your car to show you’re doing your part. The company estimates it has eliminated over 420 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions to date. (Skeptics can see a list of projects they’ve funded on the website.)

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