FY2002 OSWER Innovation Pilot Results Fact Sheet
oEPA
Determining the Effectiveness of
Ceil Phone Reuse, Refurbishment,
and Recycling
The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and
Emergency Response initiated a series of innovative pilot projects to test
ideas and strategies for improved environmental and public health results.
This series of fact sheets highlights the innovative approaches, results,
and environmental and economic benefits from the pilot projects that may
be replicated across various sectors, industries, communities, and regions.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION/INNOVATION
EPA awarded an Innovation grant to INFORM, Inc., a
national nonprofit environmental research organization,
to complete the first in-depth assessment of the
effectiveness of cell phone donation and take-back
programs, determining how their value is recaptured and
how collected phones are ultimately managed at end-of-
iife. Without research into the effectiveness of cell phone
donation and take-back programs, it is unknown whether
these programs are sustainable and how they impact the
environment. This pilot was designed to be a first step
towards forging the link between cell phone design and
end-of-life management.
BACKGROUND
In 2002, cell phone use in the United States surged
to over 140 million subscribers. With an average cell
phone life of 18 months, approximately 100 million cell
phones (50,000 tons) are retired annually. Although the
electronics segment of the waste stream accounts for
less than five percent of municipal waste, it is growing
much faster than the waste stream as a whole. Collection
programs, which recover used phones from consumers
to refurbish and resell or recycle, are one of the main
options for reducing cell phone waste. But without
aggressive collection, refurbishment and recycling
programs, persistent, bioaccumulative toxins (e.g.,
arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead,
nickel, and zinc) and brominated flame retardants in cell
phones enter the municipal waste stream and become a
burden for local governments.
Retired cell phone components retain some value and
while there are programs that promote refurbishment,
•	Four take-back programs collected 2.5 million phones
between 1999 and 2003.
•	Sale of refurbished and recycled ceii phones
generated millions of dollars in revenues, most of
which was donated to charity.
•	Educated consumers by explaining how ceii phone
reuse and recycling programs provide an alternative
to throwing out used cell phones,
•	Created an impetus for cell phone manufacturers to
redesign cell phones to make them less toxic, more
easily refurbished, and more recyclable.
reuse and recycling, it was hoped that the increasing
visibility of this issue will inspire more effective, national-
level take-back and reuse programs.
PROJECT SUMMARY
INFORM, Inc. in partnership with EPA Region 2,
conducted the first in-depth assessment of some of the
key cell phone collection and reuse programs in the
country in 2002. These programs included: Wireless
Foundation's Donate-a-Phone programs (includes
programs by Motorola, Sprint, The Body Shop and
Radio Shack), Verizon Wireless' HopeLine program,
CollectiveGood, and The Charitable Recycling Program.
INFORM examined whether these programs were
sustainable and assessed the environmental benefits of
cell phone donation and take-back programs.
INFORM interviewed program representatives to gather
information such as the quantity of cell phones collected
and refurbished or resold, collection methods, program

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expenses and revenues, promotion methods, participation
incentives, refurbishment and recycling processes, and
the ultimate destination of refurbished phones.
RESULTS
The pilot study found that the four cell phone collection
programs recovered used phones by four principle
means: 1) permanent collections at retail stores; 2)
short- or long-term drives at retail stores; 3) collections
at sporting events; and 4) direct shipment to the program
headquarters or refurbishing/recycling facility.
From 1999 to early 2003, approximately 2.5 million cell
phones were collected through these four combined
programs—which still accounted for less than one percent
of all retired cell phones. The majority of these phones
were refurbished and resold, while about 40,000 were
donated to individuals or sold to recyclers.
The programs generated significant revenues through
the sale of refurbished phones and recyclable materials.
ReCellular, Inc., a leading refurbisher of used cell phones,
generated $25 to $30 million in annual revenues from
the sale of refurbished phones and recyclable materials
from all sources. Additionally, between 1999 and 2003,
the programs interviewed had donated over $6.5 million
to charities from the sale of refurbished phones and
recyclable materials.
The study determined that uncollected, used cell phones
represent lost potential revenue for both collection
programs and the many charities that receive donations
from them. Increasing the percentage of collected phones
by only a few points would mean an exponential increase
in revenue; collecting even one-third of all retired cell
phones could create a billion-dollar refurbishing and
recycling industry.
The project further demonstrated that to effectively
address cell phone waste, programs that collect,
refurbish and recycle used cell phones would need to
be dramatically improved and expanded to effectively
address the scale of the problem—and keep pace
with the rate of cell phone use and disposal. The study
recommended the following actions to enable collection
programs to fulfill their growth potential:
• Collection programs need to offer convenient,
permanent drop-off sites in high-traffic locations and
Lead: INFORM, Inc.
Sponsor: U.S. EPA Region 2
Other Partners:
•	CollectiveGood International
•	The Charitable Recycling Program
•	Verizon Wireless HopeLine Program
•	Wireless Foundation Donate a Phone programs
OSWER Innovation Projects:
www.epa.gov/oswer/iwg/pilots
EPA Plug-in to eCycling:
www.epa.gov/epawaste/partnerships/plugin
Federal Electronics Challenge:
www.federalelectronicschallenge.net
INFORM Inc.:
www.informinc.org
be broadly publicized by wireless providers and cell
phone collection programs.
•	Policy makers should consider offering financial
incentives to enlist large-scale participation; rules for
extended producer responsibility (EPR), which gives
manufacturers physical and/or financial responsibility
for managing their products after consumers discard
them; federal and state initiatives to stimulate more
efficient cell phone recovery systems; and landfill
bans on cell phones to increase the number of phones
flowing into collection programs.
•	Manufacturers need to design cell phones for
refurbishment and recycling with standardized
components, simplification of internal software, and
reduction of toxic cell phone components.
2010 UPDATE
Shaped by pilot's findings, EPA has teamed up with
leading cell phone makers, service providers, and retailers
to launch the "Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's An Easy
Call" national campaign, which aims to increase the
public's awareness of cell phone recycling and donation
opportunities, with the ultimate goal of increasing the
nation's cell phone recycling rate.
£* rDA ynited State.s, n .	OSWER Innovation Pilot Results Fact Sheet — July 2010
Environmental Protection			r
Agency	Determining the Effectiveness of Cell Phone
Reuse, Refurbishment, and Recycling

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