Natural Resources

Published on April 7th, 2009 | by Dave Levitan


Recycle 100 Million Cell Phones, Power Almost 20,000 Homes

Recycle your old phones during National Cell Phone Recycling Week

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched the National Cell Phone Recycling Week as part of the month-long Earth Day festivities. In 2007, the EPA estimates that only 10 percent of all unused cell phones were recycled, and if all 100 million unwanted phones were recycled now it would save enough energy to power 18,500 homes for one full year.

The week-long recycling event, running from April 6 through April 12, is the result of a collaboration between the EPA’s Plug-In to eCycling program and a number of phone manufacturers. Cell phones, as well as many other household electronics items, can contain lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and other materials. These metals, if dumped in a landfill, do not break down easily and can pollute soil and groundwater. The metals can often be reused if the phones are recycled properly.


Cell phone companies Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Samsung all have in-store promotions during National Cell Phone Recycling Week to encourage people to pull their old phones out of drawers—or out of the trash can—and bring them in for recycling. Keeping phones out of landfills is especially important because some of the toxins they contain are persistent bioaccumulative toxins: they stay in fatty tissue for long periods of time, making them very harmful to humans, and especially children.

Earth Day appears to be increasingly inaccurately named, with sponsored activities running throughout April, but some have always argued that every day should be Earth Day. If you want to get an early start, I don’t think you’ll be using that StarTAC in the lower drawer of your desk anymore. It’s time to let it go.

Image: compujeramey on flickr via a Creative Commons license

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About the Author

Dave is a science writer focusing on science, health and the environment. You can find other examples of his work at Follow him on Twitter @davelevitan.

5 Responses to Recycle 100 Million Cell Phones, Power Almost 20,000 Homes

  1. Amanda says:

    Another thing that's interesting and that the EPA is pushing is urban mining, which is taking the precious metals out of recycled cell phones. You can actually get a lot of gold from cell phones (granted, you'd have to use a HUGE pile of phones), and it helps eliminate some of the need for more traditional mining that harms the environment. I wrote a story about it awhile ago if you're interested!

  2. John Shepler says:

    There's also a way you can get paid to recycle your newer cellphones and other electronic gadgets. Details are at

    It's a way to get some cash for yourself and keep toxic waste out of the environment.

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