Collective Good - Cell Phone Recycling Benefits Society


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Collective good is broadly defined as ‘all that is good for all people in a given community’. Some organizations claim their product or service adds to the collective good, some preach that the virtues of their operation benefit the collective good. Some have even named their companies after the term hoping in some way to veil their true motivation – making a profit.

To be sure, there are plenty of ways that business can help society. Green businesses, in particular, employ people, add to our GDP, help the environment, and make a profit. These types of operations are truly working for the collective good of their community.

One business model in particular that has all the traits of a ‘green’ business is cell phone recycling.

More than two thirds of the US population (200 million) uses a cell phone. Of those 200 million subscribers, over 11 million (5.5%) retire their old cell phone every month. There is no argument that this tiny electronic device has been woven into the fabric of society.

Some claim that because of the small size of the average cell phone it’s easy for a consumer to simply trash it. Maybe one person trashing a cell phone doesn’t seem like much but surveys suggest that each of the 200 million cell phone subscribers have 2.5 old cell phones shoved in a desk drawer or stored in a closet somewhere in their home or office.

Imagine if all those cell phones, 500 million in all, were discarded in household trash over the course of a year. Over 80,000 tons of additional waste would be generated. This is not common household waste that becomes fertilizer. It has the potential to pollute.

It is common knowledge that electronic waste, or e-waste, contains toxins that are harmful to the environment. Electronic circuit boards in cell phones contain toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury; just to name a few. Research has shown that cell phones, when disposed in landfill conditions, leach hazardous levels of lead.

One cell phone leaching lead into soil and groundwater may not be a big deal…but 500 million of them…this could be a problem. It is easy to see how cell phone recycling becomes a benefit to society in general - a benefit to the collective good.

To be fair though, we need to remember this is a potential environmental problem. The likelihood of all 200 million cell phone subscribers tossing their old cell phones in the garbage in the next 12 months is slim. Still, if they did, landfill managers say that their collection facilities would sift out most of the e-waste, cell phones included. And if a small percentage actually made it to the trash pile, the construction of the landfill would not allow toxins to leach into the environment.

But even if the environmental danger is mitigated there exists a financial benefit to the collective good.

According to data collected from cell phone recycling web sites, the average value of a cell phone retired in the last 18 months is well over $10. Do the math - in the last 30 days $110 million dollars worth of cell phones were just tossed aside.

In fact, the top cell phone recycling companies as a whole claim that they have recycled only about $20 million dollars worth of retired cell phones in the first ten months of 2005. They also estimate that all cell phone recycling efforts only manage to collect, at best, between 3 and 5% of all cell phones retired on an annual basis.

Using these numbers, the argument can be made that more than $1 billion worth of cell phones are retired annually and left to rot. The longer a cell phone sits the less it is worth, its value declining, rotting away, as each day passes.

Just imagine if every person sent their old cell phones to a single location to be recycled. What could society do with $1 billion dollars? Could it be used for the collective good? The answer is obvious; the solution is not.

At this point in time there is not one effective national cell phone initiative. Most are big company afterthoughts or undercapitalized small company efforts, all of these initiatives face the same enemy; ignorance. The potential tidal wave of cell phone waste sits idle in the homes of America held back, not by education, but awareness.

Surveys suggest that 90% of Americans would recycle their cell phone if there was a convenient way to do it. What most don’t realize is that there are hundreds of convenient ways. From drop-off locations to web-sites, hundreds of low or no cost cell phone recycling options exist, the problem is most people are not aware they exist.

When we consider the environmental and financial benefits it’s obvious that cell phone recycling does add to the collective good. But the challenge is getting the word out. With so many options there is no reason for any cell phone to be tossed. With just a little web searching anyone can find a convenient, no cost cell phone recycling solution.

So next time you upgrade your old cellphone or change to another service provider do your part for the environment, for your community, for our collective good – recycle your old cell phone.

James Mosieur is CEO of RMS Communications Group, Inc. RMS operates several cell phone recycling websites like . He has been in the electronics recycling business since 1985. James writes and speaks on cell phone recycling and related subjects particularly as they relate to the individual consumer.


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