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E-Cycling: Where Cell Phones Go to Die

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E-Cycling: Where Cell Phones Go to Die

Environment

E-Cycling: Where Cell Phones Go to Die

E-Cycling: Where Cell Phones Go to Die

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18873411/18873355" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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What happens to your cell phone after it hits the recycling bin? With new techniques for recycling the metals inside consumer electronics, the fate of so-called e-waste is changing.

Your old phone can have a new life — as a circuit board, a bracelet or a refurbished version of itself in, say, the Dominican Republic.

But, first, you've got to set it free. Seth Heine can help.

Since 2000, his cell phone recycling company, Collective Good, has been giving new life to used mobile phones by breaking them down to their components — which include copper, silver and platinum — and by selling them en masse to secondary markets in developing countries.

That's the easy aspect. Getting people to part with their phones isn't as simple.

"People aren't really aware that these phones can be recycled," says Heine, who estimates that the average adult in the United States is squirreling away at least three out-of-date mobile phones.

Awareness is only one part of the battle.

Heine says there's a psychological dynamic at work. Mortals invest a lot in their communication devices: photos, text messages and contact info for their nearest and dearest. And there's a monetary aspect, too.

"Some people are just caught up in the notion that they've spent a lot of money on that phone," says Heine. His solution? Another website, greenphone.com, where owners of outmoded phones can exchange them for cash.

Enter the make and model of your old phone and the site will tell you how much you can get for it. For example, an 8GB iPhone earns its previous owner $62.50.

"Basically, we're buying people's phones back," says Heine. "If they're not going to recycle them through common sense or altruism, we'll get straight to the core of it and pay them to do the right thing."

On our blog, a video tracks cell phone recycling.