A Philosopher's Blog

Cell Phone Waste

Posted in Environment by Michael LaBossiere on February 4, 2008

The January 2008 issue of PC Magazine (page 22) has some interesting cell phone facts: The first cell phone sold for $3,995 in 1983. Now cell phones are, as they say, dirt cheap. Because they are so cheap and new versions appear so rapidly, people tend to “retire” their phones and get new ones about every year and a half. Somewhat less than 1% of the phones are recycled-most often by charity groups.  In 2006 about 146 million cell phones were sold in America alone. That means that there are now over 100 million additional cell phones being dumped into land fills. Of course, the exact number is hard to determine  because of various factors that might keep phones from being discarded. For example, some people, like me, resist the urge to buy a new cell just because the current one is not the latest and the greatest.

While cell phones are small and getting smaller each year, millions of them do add up to a lot of waste if they are simply discarded. Since such waste is morally questionable, the right thing to do would most likely be to recycle or re-use them. Of course, the fact that something is the right thing to do mainly just gets a few people to think “we should do that” and then nothing is done. What really gets people to do something is a profit motivation. Fortunately, there is gold (so to speak) in those old phones.

A typical cell phone contains about 70 cents of scrap metal. That is not much. Until, of course, you multiply that by a a hundred million. In short, a clever company could make a nice profit reusing the metal in the phones. If they could reuse the plastic and rubber parts as well, the profit could be even greater.

As Al Gore has taught us with his jet, his millions and his mansions, there is more than just green trees in going green-there is green money. It is great when the good thing and the profitable thing are one in the same. Someone will do the right thing. even if it is for the “wrong” reason.

In case you are wondering, I still have a four year old cell phone. It does all I need it to do, namely make and receive calls. Okay, mostly it just sits in my backpack, collecting missed calls and text messages.