100 Million Cellphones


Photo art by Chris Jordan  - cellphones
Photograph by environmental artist Chris Jordan depicting 426,000 cellphones, the number discarded daily in the United States
I can’t even imagine someone throwing a cell phone into the trash (although I have heard there was some very lucrative dumpster diving around the time of the first iPhone release!) but that’s just me. (What other mother do you know who would post a sign by the trash “Recycle or Die”?)

There are lots of issues with this little act: the average cell phone user is urged and enticed to upgrade their phone every year or so resulting in the necessary discard of the old phone. The major service providers make half-hearted attempts to provide envelopes for recycling, but my drawer is full of the family’s used cellphones because I don’t trust where they go. I’ve heard too many horror stories of American electronics waste going to third world countries where little kids are exposed to all kinds of hazardous metals as they take apart the discarded appliances. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating; unfortunately, probably not.

Some more nasty facts: over 300 million printer cartridges are thrown away into landfills each year; over the next three years Americans will discard 130 million cellphones; Americans are 5% of the world population but they generate over 30% of the world’s trash.

Well, here’s the good news. I’ve always had affection for the US Postal Service (except for the junk mail they insist they must put in my P.O. box that I then toss into their paper recycling bin–a battle for another day) and now they have come up with a significant public service. Starting out in nearly a dozen metropolitan areas, the Post Office will now carry free mailer envelopes as part of a new Mail Back program for recycling small electronics and laser and inkjet printer cartridges. And this is recycling we can trust. The company paying for this is Clover Technologies Group, a company totally vetted and dedicated to zero waste to the landfill. In other words, they will retrofit, refurbish and resell whatever they can and totally take apart and recycle or reuse what they cannot sell.

If this works out, they will take the program across the country–imagine the potential impact from the one agency in contact with every home and business in America.

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