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Do Cell Phones go to Heaven?

By James Harker-Syren

OK, stop to think about how many cell phones have you had in your life. It’s OK:

take a minute to think back and count … I can remember 11.

Now think about what you did with them when you got a new one. Until recently, most phones were free with the renewal of your contract. This gives us the feeling that these little things have little value after we’ve used them.

So beyond the phones you’ve bought, how many were sold world-wide last year?

  • 50 million? No, you’re way off …
  • 150M? Nope!
  • Try 417M to be exact! That’s up from 308M cell phones last year.

Think about it; over 100M more people bought cell phones in the last year than the year before! So…if people get a new phone every 1-2 years and we’re just making more and more of them, what is happening to all the “old” ones?

I wanted to write this article because I am a self-admited gadget junkie. For instance, I’ve owned all 4 iPhones (… I know, I know, that’s a new phone every year).  This has become a regular conversion with Fredrica (Green Mom)… Why do I need a new phone every year? Think about the environment!  

About the time the iPhone 4 shipped, I accidentally left my old iPhone in my pants pocket and it went through the wash machine.  Fredrica looked at me very suspiciously… “hmmm, convenient timing darling.”
What did you do with your last several phones? I informally polled some of my friends and found these answers:

  1. It’s sitting in a drawer … because it has phone numbers and pictures that I didn’t want to get rid of.
  2. It’s sitting in a drawer … in case I need a backup phone (e.g. something happens to my current phone).
  3. It’s sitting in a drawer … because it’s broken.
  4. My kid plays with it like a toy …. It’s somewhere in the toy drawer.
  5. I sold it (or traded it in) when I got a new phone. and
  6. I threw it away. (But, I was surprised to find this a pretty rare occurrence.)

Do any of these actions reflect your decisions with previous phones? Take the poll in the right hand column on this site or below.  

Other than selling it or trading it in, I couldn’t find anyone who had recycled their phones — not because they didn’t care about the planet or weren’t conscious — they just hadn’t done it … YET!

So why not? Part of the reason is that it takes some effort. Most cell phone makers have a recycling program, but you have to print out mailing labels, box it up, go to the post office, etc.

Maybe paying to recycle phones would motivate more people to do so. Apple is perhaps the most innovative here … for both “ease” and “incentive.” You can bring old iPhones (or iPods, laptops, etc.) to any Apple Store to recycle it, and get an Apple gift card for what it’s worth.


I couldn’t find any data about the success of Apple’s program, compared to a Nokia or a Motorola for example. I suspect, however, that Apple’s program is the beginning of change in the way people handle old phones. Why? First of all, the new “smart phones” like the Android and the iPhones are more expensive, so they don’t feel as disposable. Second, companies like Apple are making it really easy to get value for your phone. Also, eBay is chock-full of people selling Android and Apple phones because there is still real value after a couple of years. In the end, though, we must get these old phones out of our drawers but keep them out of the landfills.

How many cell phones are you holding on to?  Take the poll in the right hand column on this site or below.  

Maybe a good new year’s resolution would be to clear them out of your drawers and recycle them. The sooner you do it, the more likely it is that your unused phone (or some of the parts) could be reused or reclaimed.



About Green Dad

James is a Green Dad. He has been married to Green Mom (aka Fredrica) for 17 years and is a father of 3. His primary career has been in software. He has started two software companies, worked in San Francisco, London, San Diego and now Stockholm. He is the Chief Product Officer for eBay Sweden. James’s interests outside of work round out his character. He is an Eagle Scout and loves nature and the outdoors, especially hiking and camping. While living in London, Fredrica and James started practicing yoga with more focus and intensity, and he became a certified yoga teacher. James hopes to inspire other dads to bring more consciousness to their family life … in the time they spend with their kids, in the impact they make on the planet and in the mindset they have about how we all live our lives.

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One comment

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