With Mike Newman, Vice President of Recellular
EG: What are you doing to encourage more people to recycle their old phones?
MN: We partner with retailers and wireless carriers. For example, at Best Buy, there’s a huge bin right when you walk in – you can just dump your phone in. Some carriers will give you a prepaid envelope to drop in the mail.
EG: Why not provide a curbside service?
MN: Then the cell phones would get wet. Plus, you don’t want to put your personal information out on there in the open like that.
EG: How do you sort through the phones at your facility?
MN: Five years ago, there was literally a big table where we sorted them by hand. Now, scanning the bar code in each phone tells our employees where to sort it.
EG: How many phones are we talking?
MN: We go through half a million phones each month, and we’ve been growing steadily each year.
EG: Do you guys actually recycle the raw materials of the phone?
MN: No, we refurbish them. Most of the time the phones are working perfectly fine. Plus, the materials themselves aren’t worth much – there’s about 75 cents worth of metal in a given phone and you get about 50 cents for a pound of battery material. Not a great business when you’re paying two dollars just to cover the shipping. If the phone is completely unusable we do send it to a local recycler.
EG: What happens to most cell phones out there?
MN: Out of all the phones that are retired (i.e. they still work, but their owner has moved onto a newer device), less than 20% are recycled. But that doesn’t mean that 80% are thrown into the trash. Because phones are so small, most people simply put them in a drawer and they collect dust. [Author’s note: This is true. I have two phones, dating back to 2004, with this exact status.]
EG: Do you do your work outside the US and Canada as well?
MN: We do, but there are cultural differences that need to be considered. First of all, in many developing countries, when someone retires a phone he gives it to a friend or relative who doesn’t have one yet. But there are other things, too. In Brazil, for example, the mail slots aren’t big enough for our envelopes, and in some places people wouldn't trust the postal service not to steal the phone. You have to approach the issue slightly differently.
EG: Which phones sell the best used?
MN: The rule of thumb is, if it sells well new it sells well used, and for a long time. We were selling the Motoral StarTAC (which debuted in 1996) until just a year or two ago, and we plan on selling Razrs for a long time.
Image via Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality
written by Brennan, March 04, 2009
written by Fred, July 22, 2009
written by Willi Paul, September 10, 2009
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