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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 28, 2002

The hazards of dumping cell phones

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Cellular phones are useful tools, but they're also little packages of toxic compounds that can cause problems when dumped into landfills or burned.

Many contain antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, nickel, lead and zinc.

And there are a lot of them out there. There are estimates that Americans in the next couple of years will be trashing cell phones at a rate of 130 million a year.

"We are seeing the effects, we think, of disposal of rechargeable batteries in increased heavy metal — cadmium — levels at our waste recovery facility," said Suzanne Jones, recycling coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu.

A national environmental research organization, INFORM, earlier this year published a report, "Waste in the Wireless World: The Challenge of Cell Phones."

"Because these devices are so small, their environmental impacts might appear to be minimal. But the growth in their use has been so enormous that the environmental and public health impacts of the waste they create are a significant concern," said Bette Fishbein, the report's author.

The report urges cell phone makers to reduce their use of toxic compounds that can cause problems in the waste stream. It also recommends standardization, both of the phone system and of phone components.

With a broadly standardized industry, you wouldn't need a different model of phone when you move to a different cell service provider or when you move abroad. And when you upgrade to a new phone, your old charger and batteries might still work.

They're also recommending cell phones be designed for recycling.

What's a consumer to do?

If the phone still works — say, if you're upgrading to one with more features — you can donate it to a worthy cause, or just turn it in for recycling.

One place that will make good use of your used cell phone is the Hawai'i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You can drop the phone off at 716 Umi St. in Kalihi or call them at 832-9316. Many of the places that sell cell phones also recycle them. So, if you buy a new one, turn in your old one.

If you're just changing batteries, you can normally turn over your old battery to the place where you buy the new one. Most have recycling programs. Similarly, most of the places where you buy any kind of a device with a rechargeable battery will provide recycling programs for worn-out batteries.

The Web site www.donateaphone.com gets you to the Wireless Foundation, which has several ways to recycle cell phones. Another site is www.collectivegood.com, which can show you how to get a charitable tax deduction for donating a phone.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Reach him at (808) 245-3074 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.