Can you toss me now? Donation popular option for unwanted cell phones

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

So . . . you’ve just bought a new smart phone, and now you want to do the smart thing with your old device. But what is that?

Sending it to the landfill, of course, is not the answer. Cell phones and other electronics contain harmful materials – lead, cadmium, chromium and other heavy metals – which will leach into the environment and become a health risk. And since September 2010, the Wisconsin Electronics Recycling Law has banned a wide range of electronics from being deposited in landfills.

Cell phones that do get dropped off at county waste sites are sent away for appropriate recycling. The Outagamie County Department of Solid Waste, for example, currently ships them to e-Cycle, an Ohio-based company that assures that “end-of-life” devices are shredded and disposed of responsibly.

Two wireless providers have developed innovative programs that help their customers recycle, while also providing support to area not-for-profit organizations.


Cellcom’s “Green Gifts” program

Cellcom, based in De Pere, launched its cell phone recycling program in 2004, and collects used phones at its more than 20 locations across northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. It sells the units to a company that either refurbishes the phones or appropriately recycles them.

Cellcom applies the cash received to its “Green Gifts” program, which was established in 2010 to offer local organizations, programs and projects the opportunity to apply for grants that support environmental sustainability.

“We want to be environmentally thoughtful,” says Tammy Homan, Cellcom’s media relations/communications coordinator.“What better way to give back than to give it to projects that support the environment. It helps our green efforts go full-circle.”

This year’s awards totaled $30,000, putting Cellcom over the $100,000 mark through Green Gifts and its predecessor program. Of the 17 winners for 2011, 11 are based in the New North region, including:

»Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay (medical care, caging and specialized diets for wildlife orphans)

»Friends of Mosquito Hill, New London (energy cycle display showing energy conservation and alternative energy sources)

»Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve, Manitowoc (school field trips for environmental and conservation education)

»Whitefish Dunes State Park, Door County (invasive species management to protect fragile dune plants)


HopeLine, by Verizon Wireless

Another provider, Verizon Wireless, focused its phone recycling efforts on domestic violence prevention and awareness programs when it created HopeLine in 2001.

Through that program, Verizon collects no-longer-used wireless phones, batteries and accessories in any of its stores or by mail. Phones that are still operational or can be refurbished are provided to domestic violence organizations to give to victims who need the protection of a cell phone, but are not able to afford it.

Phones that cannot be refurbished are recycled in an environmentally sound way under a zero-landfill policy. The money generated funds cash grants to domestic violence organizations.

In 2010, more than 13,000 phones were donated to the program in Wisconsin alone. Verizon provided 1.4 million minutes of free service and more than $75,000 in cash grants to help survivors of domestic violence across the state. Both Harbor House in Appleton and Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services of Oshkosh have received significant grants from Verizon’s HopeLine program in the past couple of years.

Green Bay’s Golden House domestic abuse center was directly involved in yet another Verizon-sponsored phone donation effort a few weeks ago. Verizon’s “Protection is the Name of the Game” campaign includes a phone collection drive at each Green Bay Packers home game. The company contributes $10 to a local agency for every phone donated. Golden House received more than $1,200 from phones collected during the Oct. 2 game against the Denver Broncos.


Donating to agencies directly

You can also donate your old phone directly to regional domestic violence agencies.

“We collect phones all year,” says Maria Turner, communications and development coordinator for Harbor House in Appleton. “All we need is the phone and charger.”

Units suitable for reprogramming are converted to 911 phones through

an agreement with U.S. Cellular, and

are given to women who have no other cell phone to be used for emergencies. The others are shipped to Shelter Alliance, a Florida-based grassroots recycler that helps non-profit organizations raise money through cell phone collection. A local agency receives 50 cents to $8 per phone, depending on type and condition. For Harbor House, that amounts to $1,000 to $2,000 per year.

Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, which serves Winnebago and Green Lake counties, also works with Shelter Alliance, occasionally benefiting from drives by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce or individual businesses. They collect 300 to 400 phones per year, according to Executive Director Julie Fevola.

Local businesses such as Suess Electronics, RecycleThatStuff, STEP Industries and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore also help their customers by accepting used phones. Best Buy, Staples, Home Depot, Target and other national retailers do the same in most locations.

With so many options available, your old phone is sure to find new life helping someone else.