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Cell Phone Recycling Guide

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The easy solution

Despite the fact that California's mandatory recycling law doesn't go into effect for another 18 months, and most other states have no such law, every major national carrier accepts all phones, and usually accessories, chargers and batteries at each of their retail stores. If you don't care where your phone or the money made from it is going, just drop it off at the closest carrier-owned store, or leave your old model there when you buy a new handset. They each accept phones, as well as batteries and accessories. In addition, Staples and other stores offer supplies for recycling your phones by sending them into companies like Collective Good and ReCellular.

If you care where your phone, or where the money from it goes, then you should take some time to learn what your carrier does, or if you feel another organization could better benefit from your handset.


If you are a Nextel customer, it behooves you to make the extra effort and return your phone via the Nextel Buyback program. They are the only carrier who actually offers subscribers money for many models of their handsets. The company makes all efforts to take those handsets and reuse them, but handsets which Nextel cannot refurbish, along with those from other carriers are recycled and the money from them is donated to the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services program. This Red Cross program is helps to contact troops and get them in touch with their families if there is an emergency back home in the US.

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Nextel's program has been wildly successful, at least compared to most other carriers, even ones larger than Nextel. The company collected 1.4 million handsets in 2003 alone. No other carrier claimed to have collected that many over the lifetime of their recycling programs through the end of 2003. Nextel had already collected 1.5 million handsets to recycle by October of this year, the most recent date statistics are available.


Cingular has from time to time offered rebates for subscribers who return an old GSM handset when upgrading to a new model. Even without rebates, they encourage subscribers to recycle old handsets, asking for them when they upgrade in the store or sending return mailers if the upgrade is by mail. Like Nextel, Cingular will make attempts to refurbish older handsets returned to them and will even use certain refurbished models as phones for pre-paid customers. Cingular also donates a number of handsets to Donate a Phone, which distributes handsets with emergency service to battered women. Handsets that are refurbished or donated from Cingular or any other carrier are recycled.

The Rest

T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon all use ReCellular to recycle the phones dropped off at their stores. ReCellular prepares donated phones for resale in Latin America by either refurbishing phones in good condition or using them for parts. Phones that are hopeless are recycled as much as possible and the rest is safely disposed of. ReCellular tracks the proceeds from each phone donates them to a charity the carrier chooses.

T-Mobile donates their proceeds to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Currently that fund has been helping victims of this year's series of hurricanes across Florida. They were even thoughtful enough to recently mail out a reminder letting their subscribers know they accept phone donations at every store.

Like Cingular, Sprint also participates in the Donate a Phone a program, which distributes phones to battered women. Proceeds that come from phones sent by Sprint to ReCellular are donated to Easter Seals and the National Organization on Disability, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate in society more more fully.

Verizon also uses donations to help battle domestic violence, however not simply through the Donate a Phone program. Instead Verizon uses all the proceeds from recycling to fund it calls HopeLine, which distributes money to domestic violence prevention and education efforts through various groups.

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