Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2010




Did you get the new mobile phone or iPod you asked for this year? If so, what are you going to do with your tried and true, functional-yet-slightly-outdated hardware you are replacing? Like most of us, they end up in a drawer or cabinet somewhere and quickly become forgotten.

Some are doomed to a worse fate and end up being tossed in the trash – an action that may come back to haunt us as many devices contain toxic materials that shouldn’t end up in a landfill. The Government has renewed its efforts to inform and educate the public about properly disposing of their unwanted devices.

Private industry is also interested in helping you dispose of your old electronics. There has been a rise in the number of businesses offering mobile phone and electrical device recycling for people looking for ways to sell their gadgets. These businesses accept items such as mobile phones, iPhones and iPods, Games Consoles, Digital Cameras and MP3 Players, all of which can be recycled for cash.

Environmental Concerns

There are more than 500 million used cell phones in the U.S. that have gone out of service; another 130 million will be added this year alone. The problem is growing at a rate of more than 2 million phones per week! Many of these phones will end up in landfills.

Toxic materials contained in phones include lead, mercury, beryllium, arsenic, cadmium and antimony. If incinerated, these substances can pollute the air and in landfills they can leach into groundwater. Many of the materials are also on the EPA’s list of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) which accumulate in fatty tissues. The toxins are gradually concentrated, causing a range of adverse health effects.

Delete Your Data

The first thing you need to do before disposing of your old phone is to make sure you clear the information from it.

One company who refurbishes phones for reuse states that “phones contain an average of 5 megabytes of personal contacts, e-mail, photos and financial information per handset from donated phones.”

Start by going to the manufacturer’s website and search for info on how to reset your phone which will clear most of the data stored on the phone. You can also use a Cell Phone Data-Eraser program, available for free through ReCellular’s site (

If you’re an AT&T or T-Mobile customer, you probably have a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) Card that you will need to remove. Phones from Verizon Wireless and Sprint do not use SIM cards.

Next, remove any micro-sd cards or memory chips from the phone. These usually hold the bulk of your personal information, including your music files, names and addresses and text messages.

Where to Send Your Device

The first option is to send your phone back where it came from by sending it either to the company you bought it from (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) or the phone’s manufacturer (Motorola, Samsung, Nokia, etc.). The major mobile carriers in the United States have their own reuse/recycle programs; many don’t even care if it’s one of their own phones. You can find drop-off bins in many store locations. Promotions vary between Mobile phone companies, but whether it is store credit or phone cards for troops stationed overseas, the incentives they offer are worth looking into.

Another avenue to get rid of your unwanted devices is businesses who will buy your phones for cash. Companies like will buy your cell phones, MP3 players, laptops or other gadgets. Their “Get an Offer” page will show you how much your phone is worth. It may be a few dollars, or a couple hundred dollars; then again, it might not be worth anything – but they will still offer to dispose of it in an environmentally responsible way for you.

There are also groups that will make sure your phone goes to a good cause. Charitable organizations such as will collect old phones and give between $1 and $100 to the participating charity of your choice. Others, like, will help you create a fundraiser for your nonprofits, school or community group and offer between 50 cents and $30 per cell phone. Price depends on make and model, but they also guarantee 50 cents for every item, even those not accepted by other companies.

Where Does It Go?

Devices that still have some life left in them are refurbished and resold or given to those in need. Others are disassembled and the usable parts are sold. The ones remaining have their recyclable materials extracted, with the remainder disposed of in a safe manner. 

The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) Association, which represents phone-makers and carriers using GSM technology, says that 80 percent of a phone’s material can be recycled. Gold, platinum, silver and plastic are recycled while lead and cadmium – among the elements in phones that can be most toxic to the environment – are treated separately for disposal.

It’s not only old phones or personal digital assistants that need proper disposal; their batteries, headsets, cases, cables and chargers do, as well. Thrown-away chargers generate more than 51,000 tons of waste a year, according to the association.

Going Green

Normally, no one likes hand-me-downs, but there is a lot of good that can come from your old devices, whether they find a new home with someone who needs them or are spared from the landfill to become something new.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2010

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