Sprint breaks world record for cell phone recycling

| September 12, 2013

Americans throw away 140 million cell phones per year. That’s almost one cell phone for every two Americans.

cell phone recycling

Sprint recycled 103,582 phones in a single week. From William Ross.

Why do we churn through phones so quickly? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average lifespan of a cell phone is 18 months. Sure, sometimes they break or get lost, but the bigger culprit seems to be attention spans and the promise of the next shiny, new thing.

140 million cell phones per year adds up to a whole lot of landfill space. That’s the bad news.

The good news? There are people doing something about it.

Sprint just set (actually, more like shattered) the world record for the most cell phones recycled in a single week. The feat landed the company in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The record-setting number? 103,582 phones. That’s a fraction of the number thrown away each year, but it’s a start — and it’s certainly impressive for one week.

The record-breaking week is just part of an overarching effort on Sprint’s part to promote cell phone recycling. Sprint was reportedly “the first wireless carrier in the United States to initiate a customer buyback program.” This program is noteworthy for accepting eligible phones from any carrier. That means that you could walk into a Sprint store with an eligible phone from the company’s arch rival and still walk away with some money in your pocket.

According to a release covered by Daily Finance, Sprint claims to have diverted 12.5 million pounds of e-waste from landfills since 2001. That’s a lot of old phones, but it’s nothing compared to where they’re headed. Sprint “projects to re-use and recycle an additional 100 million pounds of e-waste in 2013 and 2014.”

Sprint’s ongoing recycling effort isn’t perhaps 100% altruistic — or at least it’s not without corporate benefit, since it “has helped create more than $1 billion in cost avoidance for the company.”

cell phone recycling

With Sprint’s buyback program, you can exchange a cell phone from any carrier for cash. From David Ohmer.

Still, the buyback programs have also provided serious cash for customers — to the tune of $100 million in 2012 alone. Plus, it’s hard to argue with the green benefits. The plans for additional recycling over the next two years will “significantly reduce Sprint’s electricity consumption and carbon footprint.”

“We are committed to keeping old cell phones out of landfills and are so pleased that our customers supported us during this record-setting week, as they regularly do throughout the year,” said Jaime Jones, senior vice president of consumer sales at Sprint.

In spite of record-setting efforts like this one, far too many cell phones still end up in landfills. Many consumers fail to realize that there is an alternative to the garbage — or the junk drawer at home — when it comes to old cell phones.

Unfortunately, e-waste such as cell phones pose an environmental threat when ending up in landfills. Many of the materials used to produce cell phones are potentially toxic, and these materials leach into the soil and can accumulate in the environment.

Increased recycling awareness and education for electronics is needed in order to improve recycling rates. Perhaps Sprint will inspire other carriers to follow suit — and maybe even challenge them on the record.

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Category: Electronics, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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