What happens with your old phone once you’ve moved on to a snazzy new one?

A couple Thursdays ago I stayed up until 3:30 in the morning to pre-order the new iPhone 4S. It was a purchase I had been waiting nearly six months to make since my two year contract with AT&T had lapsed, and I could get a new phone. My parents and I had already discussed that we would give my old iPhone to mother, who has used a Motorola SLVR for the past 7 years and is ready to move into the age of the smartphone. But as I was sitting at my desk clicking “refresh” over and over on Apple’s online store page I couldn’t help but wonder what other people do with their old cell phones.

I found the thought rather distressing. Cell phones are chock-full of toxic substances that you can’t just toss into a landfill. They contain substances like lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants, and PVC just to name a few and that’s not even including the batteries. You might think that throwing out your phone, it being such a minuscule item and whatnot, wouldn’t be a big deal but think of the millions of cell phones that people throw out every year. Soon rain leaches these toxic substances into the ground and your water supply is undrinkable (unless of course you like heavy metal poisoning).

Needless to say, donating if your old phone is useable and recycling if it’s not is a no brainer. But how do I do this you may wonder? Well look no further! Here are some links to help you on your quest to save the world one phone at a time.

I decided to set about discovering what most people do with their old cell phones. Personally, I’m a bit of a technophile and a fan of nostalgia so I generally keep my old technology. In fact I still have my first iPod in its original box, an Apple IIc from 1980s, my lime green 1976 BMW despite having upgraded to one from the ’90s,  and when I bought my first iPhone I kept my motorola SLVR for when I go running and bicycling.

Sarah Kranau, a George Washington University student, said that, much like myself, she gave her old iPhone to her mother.

Emma Faist, a Mizzou student, said “I always keep my old cellphones and put them in my memory box. I think it’s cool to see the technology advances as I get new ones. Sometimes I look at them and just laugh because some of them are really silly looking. I would recycle them but that’s no fun because then they are just gone!”

When I asked Seth Amos, a student at UPenn, I got quite an interesting response. He said: “I kept it and I carry it with me when I run in case I need to throw it.”

“Wait,” I said, “so to be clear, you carry around your old cell phone on runs to throw at someone if they seem to have an intent to harm you?”

“Yes, exactly” he said.

Taylor Dukes, a Junior at Mizzou, said that she kept her old phone in case she ever had a problem with her iPhone.

So perhaps my worrying was unwarranted. If most people simply keep their old phones and put them to good use or save them for emergencies or to look at, then they aren’t really contributing to the growing issue of eWaste. Let’s just hope they recycle their phones when the time comes to get rid of them. I did, however, get a few other responses. One of which wasn’t particularly reassuring, but others certainly make the case that some people are conscious of the issue and trying to make a difference now.

Mizzou Sophomore Tracy Qin, said that she usually gets new phones because she loses them. While Mizzou Junior Laura Ebone said she placed her old phone in the electronics recycling box by the front desk of her residence hall. Which is what Matt Mazick, a Mizzou Sophomore, does unless “it’s still functional” he says “then I store it away as a backup or give it to one of my family members as an upgrade.”

Anna Valiavska had this to say on the topic: “A few years back I realized that there were a lot of cellphones that I acquired and I wanted to do something with them. There were a few programs that were available at the time. Two programs I have used for cell phones that were usable were cell phones for soldiers and cell phones for domestic violence survivors. Best Buy takes old cellphones in stores and recycles them.” She went on to say that her main motivation is “to not be wasteful. We have a lot of resources and it would be useful to reuse as many of them as we can.”


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