What Happens to Our Cell Phones When They Die or Get Thrown Away?

What Happens to Cell Phones When They Die

recyled old mobile phones

If you’re anything like most Americans, you probably have a drawer somewhere in your house that serves as something of a cell phone graveyard. Your old flip phones, and first, second, third, and fourth generation smart phones, rattle around in there every time you open the drawer by mistake, their batteries long-since dead.

They’re waiting to get thrown away or recycled the next time you move. You may want to read on and find out the difference between what happens to a cell phone that gets recycled, and one that just ends up in the landfill. Spoiler alert: recycling is ALWAYS the way to go.

What Happens to a Cell Phone that Gets Recycled

Depending on the age of your mobile device and the manner in which it is recycled, it may get refurbished and resold. There are charity programs that do this to support their missions and many carriers offer a discount on your new phone for trading in your old one. However, if your phone is damaged beyond the point of profitable refurbishing, or is just too old to be reconditioned and resold, it will most likely be recycled through a multistep process.

The first thing that happens at a mobile device recycling center is sorting. Phones are taken apart and sorted into their base components: batteries, plastics, metals, paper and cardboard packaging, circuit boards, and any accessories that came along with them.

Batteries are sorted by type and shipped to processing plants that extract and resell their base chemicals. Circuit boards get shipped out to companies that specialize in extracting and recycling the precious and base metals that were used in their construction. The casings are shipped to plastic manufacturers, while the packaging and accessories are sent to other processing companies for recycling, as well.

Nearly every part of a cell phone has a value that a company is willing to extract in the recycling process for resale to manufacturers that use recycled raw materials to make new items, like new cell phones.

What Happens to a Cell Phone in a Landfill

It’s a sad fact of contemporary life in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world: most cell phones have an eighteen-month life in the hands of an average consumer. Take that information and add to it the fact that in the U.S., more than one hundred million discarded cell phones end up in land fills and dumps on an annual basis, and you have a potential environmental capacity.

Not only are all of those cell phones taking up unnecessary space in our land fills, but as they decompose, they also leek many toxic metals and other materials into the soil and underlying water table.

It seems like a no-brainer, the choice between recycling and throwing away old cell phones. Chances are there are at least three collection sites for old cell phones within a mile of where you are reading this right now.

[Photo Via: MyRecycledBags]

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