If you're reading this, chances are you're considering a new way to get VoIP on your cell phone — and that means upgrading to a VoIP-capable phone. But did you know that throwing your old cell phone in the garbage helps support civil war in central Africa, driving endangered gorillas closer to extinction in the process?
A little explanation: A used cell phone's value lies mainly in small amounts of minerals in its circuits — gold, nickel and especially tantalum, a high-melting-point metal sometimes referred to as coltan. Like something from a Clive Cussler thriller, tantalum is vital to manufacturing cell phones and many other electronic devices, but 80 percent of the world's reserves are in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). There, it is mined under frequently appalling conditions and fought over during the DRC's ongoing civil and international wars. Tantalum-mining revenues help fuel these wars, along with the associated destruction of human lives and gorilla habitat.
Tantalum and other minerals command a premium, so cell-phone manufacturers have turned to recycling because it's easier (and more ethical) than dealing with warlords — or commodities brokers who buy from them. An entire tantalum-recycling economy has sprung up, and now accounts for 20 to 25 percent of manufacturing input per year.
In addition, cell phones and their electronic cousins may also contain potentially toxic compounds of lead and arsenic, so it behooves us to keep them from winding up in landfills and afterward, the water supply.
Here are some of the ways that you can keep your old phone's minerals and plastics in circulation while easing your conscience about making calls using the equivalent of a conflict diamond.
1. Betterbuyback.com specializes in Sprint and Nextel phones but will buy back other manufacturers' devices as well.
2. CellForCash returns money for cell phones, ranging up to about $100 for late-model devices.
3. CollectiveGood collects phones and donates the proceeds to groups like the Humane Society of the Unite States, CARE, The Center for Domestic Violence Prevention and, not incidentally, Congo Global Action.
4. Foneclub is the fundraising arm of U.K.-based Corporate Mobile Recycling Ltd., and it will set your school or other program up with cell-phone-donation programs that raise an average of 250 pounds (about $490). You can also donate funds raised to charities like the Spanish Red Cross or Oxfam International.
5. GRC Wireless Recycling helps organize NGO (nongovernmental organization) and school fundraising via cell-phone recycling and also directs funds from donated cell phones to charity partners.
6. iRethink exchanges donated cell phones and ink-jet and toner cartridges for rewards points convertible to cash or new imaging supplies.
7. Phone Fund helps organize old-cell-phone drives and pays your group for the phones (and other gadgets) it collects, then refurbishes or recycles them.
8. ReCellular Inc. buys old phones and phone chargers to refurbish and resell.
9. Recycle My Cell Phone recycles cell phones, PDAs and pagers and conducts education on behalf of mineral-development watchdog Earthworks.
10. Recycling for Charities donates proceeds from cell phones, PDAs, Palm devices, digital cameras and iPods to the charity of your choice.
11. RIPMobile collects cell phones and some PDAs and gives you RIPMobile Points good for various items — from Circuit City goodies to Red Cross donations.
12. SellYourCell.com will buy your cell phone based on its make and model. (Caution: SellYourCell.com generally only buys phones that are less than two years old, meaning that a four-year-old phone is essentially worthless in cash terms.)
13. TechMedics recycles cell phones and gives you a percentage of what it earns as EnviroRebates, which can be expressed as either a check to you or a donation to a wide range of charities.
14. Wireless ... The New Recyclable is wireless-industry lobbyist CTIA's (Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association) recycling initiative. Despite the goofy name, its site still leads to several ways to sell, recycle or donate your phone via eBay Inc.
15. Cell Phones for Soldiers recycles your phone and donates a percentage as phone cards for U.S. service members, who can always use a low-cost way to dial the home front.
16. March of Dimes Foundation works to prevent premature births and aid babies who are born prematurely; cell phone donations aid this cause.
17. Shelter Alliance is a program of GRC Wireless Recycling (see above) that explicitly turns over funds from donated phones to one of 2,500 Shelter Alliance participants (including the charity of your choice if you register it).
18. Support Network for Battered Women accepts cell phones that can be reprogrammed to help domestic-violence victims call police. It also gets proceeds from phones donated via Wireless Fundraiser.com.
19. The Wireless Foundation donations help CALL TO PROTECT, which aids victims of domestic violence, and also fund The Wireless Foundation's operations. The Wireless Foundation uses wireless technology for philanthropic purposes; some phones are refurbished and given to women as an emergency lifeline. See the CTIA's state-by-state listing of CALL TO PROTECT drop-off points.
20. Call2Protect is not to be confused with the domestic-violence group above; it is Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.'s battery/cell-phone initiative, with some 30,000 drop-off sites nationwide.
21. e-cycle St. Louis accepts cell phones at 10 sites in the city and suburbs and lists several Missouri county resources as well.
22. The Freecycle Network is a clearinghouse for everything related to keeping junk out of landfills. Find the neares of its 4,218 groups for local ideas about cell-phone recycling.
23. Goodwill Industries International will sometimes take cell phones for recycling, depending on the store, then either recycle them or donate them to local law enforcement, who use them to give people an emergency 911 capacity. Locate the nearest Goodwill facility to you via the store locator, http://locator.goodwill.org/ then call to find out whether the store accepts cell-phone donations. Also, calling 800-664-6577 connects you with your nearest Goodwill store.
24. GreenCitizen Inc. accepts all kinds of electronic junk. Just walk into their San Francisco or Los Altos, Calif. facilities.
25. RECONNECT is a partnership between Goodwill Industries International and Dell; drop off unwanted electronics at participating Goodwill stores in California, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.
26. The Basel Action Network works to raise awareness of international trade in toxic materials, such as those found in e-waste, and recommends e-Stewards, which can recycle your electronics responsibly.
27. ECO-CELL turns your cell phone into money that benefits The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
28. Toronto Zoo sends dropped-off and mailed cell phones to ECO-CELL, which donates 45 cents to $15 to the zoo's Endangered Species Recovery Fund to support African gorilla conservation.
29. Apple Inc. will recycle your iPod or cell phone (regardless of make or model). Just drop devices off at an Apple retail store or mail them in.
30. AT&T recycles its own and other manufacturers' cell phones, batteries, PDAs and accessories; see the company's dealer locator for a location near you.
31. Best Buy has recycling kiosks for cell phones, ink cartridges and rechargeable batteries inside every U.S. store.
32. Motorola Inc.'s Race to Recycle channels a portion of cell-phone proceeds to schools participating in this program.
33. Nokia provides postage-paid shipping for recycling old cell phones.
34. Office Depot Inc. accepts both cell phones and rechargeable batteries (as well as toner cartridges) at its stores .The company aslo accepts other e-waste although you may need to buy a box for shipping it to Office Depot's recycler, Intechra LLC.
35. Sony Corp. has partnered with Waste Management to accept Sony-branded products, including Sony Ericsson phones, at locations worldwide, including North America, Asia and Europe.
36. Sprint will either buy back eligible Sprint PCS or Nextel phones, or recycle them and use the proceeds to promote kids' Internet safety.
37. Staples Inc. stores offer free cell-phone recycling or refurbishment and donate proceeds and/or phones to charities like CollectiveGood.
38. T-Mobile USA Inc. accepts your old phone at any retail store, then donates the proceeds to T-Mobile Huddle Up, http://www.t-mobile.com/huddleup a program that helps high-risk urban kids have positive new experiences.
39. Toshiba's Trade-In and Recycling Program will either buy back working Toshiba electronics or recycle them for the cost of shipping.
40. Verizon Wireless's HopeLine collects all types of wireless phones and related equipment; refurbishes or recycles them; and donates phones, airtime and/or funding to domestic-violence victims, centers and programs.
41. Make sells kits for inflatable, light- and cell signal-sensitive Blubber Bots. Make a call, and the Blubber Bot somewhat spookily starts floating your way, unnerving cats and humans alike.
42. Electronics Exchange System is a free listing service for buying, selling and swapping used electronic equipment, including cell phones.
43. ElectronicsRecycling.com links to more than 1,400 firms, agencies and NGOs concerned with e-waste, and it operates the National Center for Electronics Recycling.
44. eRecycle is California's electronics-recycling initiative. If you bought your electronic device in California, you already paid a mandatory fee to have it recycled. It's time to get your money's worth: See this locator to find California drop-off locations for cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices.
45. exPhone is an excellent starting point for the ins and outs of cell-phone donation, and the site walks you through terminating service, wiping the phone's memory, pulling the SIM card for possible future use and choosing a worthy charity.
46. Federal Electronics Challenge is a U.S. interagency initiative encouraging greener federal purchasing and disposal of electronics. It provides agencies and facilities with resources and technical assistance to help them achieve set goals.
47. Help make art isn't really something you can do with your phone, but check out Chris Jordan's exhibit "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait," which includes a representation of 426,000 discarded cell phones — the number of phones that Americans "retire" every day — among other graphic looks at U.S. consumerism.
48. Montgomery County, Md. notes that even cell phones with discontinued service can still dial 911 and suggests several donation avenues.
49. Resource Recycling's advertisers include those searching for electronic scrap.
50. TechSoup offers a lengthy list of U.S. and international electronics recyclers, refurbishers and related programs.
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