Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to Dispose of Your Old Cell Phone

It's big, it's beautiful, it has lots of pretty colors.  The iPhone 6 is here, which means it's time for an upgrade.  But what will become of your old phone?

My poor old gray-haired daddy and I didn't get along much in this life.  That's too bad.

Now that he's been gone these past 16 years or so, I've had time to get a little perspective on the whole thing.  Check the inventory, so to speak.  And I've come to recognize the value in some of the things he handed down to me.

The single most important item my father bequeathed to me was a saying, a personal maxim of his, that has become a favorite of mine.  That saying is:

"Monkey see, monkey do."

The genius of this motto is that in four words (and really just three), it not only accurately describes the vast majority of human behavior, it also explains the reason for it.  

In short, people pretty much do what they see other people doing.  They do this because people are souped-up chimpanzees, and that's what chimps do. 

With all this in mind, the new iPhone 6 is finally available, millions of chimps are buying it, and that means you are likely to buy it soon, if you haven't already.

But what will happen to your old phone when you upgrade? 

This Thing is So 2011 

Let's face it, your old phone is an embarrassment.  It's humiliating just to carry it around.  You're afraid to whip it out in public because of the startled gasps you hear from the adults around you, not to mention the screams of small, frightened children.

You need to get rid of it, and quick.

Hey, the cell phone company will give you some money for it on a trade-in.  And why not?  You've been overpaying for it for the past 18 months.  They're already way ahead.

But what are they going to do with it?  It's not like they can sell it.  I mean, the phone is whack.  Giga-what?  This one hardly has megawatts.  It practically has kilograms.  Nobody wants this thing.  

Chances are pretty good they're going to recycle it for you.

"Recycle," now there's a friendly word.  Everybody is supposed to recycle.  Cans, bottles, those plastic containers that your lunchtime salad comes in.  Brown paper bags.  

Paper or plastic?  Neither, I'm carrying my own canvas bag.

We're trying to save the Earth here, am I right?  Everybody needs to buy a new phone and recycle the old one, so we can recycle and save the Earth.

Ahhh.  Beautiful.

Recycling Electronics
As it turns out, recycling electronics isn't quite the same as recycling old apple cores or biodegradable summer dresses.

There's money in recycling electronics.  There's money in recycling most things, but in the aggregate, recycling electronics is a big industry.  

And it's a dirty industry.  And like many industries us chimps create, it's kind of a race to the bottom.

What happens is the old, obsolete cell phones, desktop computers, monitors, laptops, mp3 players, what have you, are sold to recyclers for pennies on the dollar.  Millions and millions of pounds of this stuff.  It's all junk anyway, right?

The recyclers turn and ship the electronic junk overseas.  It ends up in places like China, India, Bangladesh.  In certain towns, children and adults melt the plastic casings down, pull the stuff apart, and pry out the valuable conductive metals inside, like lead, gold, nickel, copper and silver.  This is a hazardous, self-destructive thing to do.   

The most notorious of these places is Guiyu, China.  A town of 150,000 people, it is an environmental disaster area.  The water is contaminated.  The ground is contaminated.  The air is contaminated.

The average worker (child and adult alike) makes the equivalent of $1 for an eight hour day.  80% of the children in Guiyu have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood.  

Guiyu child worker.  Hey, remember when Apple had those computers that came in all those funky colors?  Neat, huh?  Okay kid, back to work.
"Mommy, when can I have a snack?"

A Better Option

Okay, we know right away you want no part of poisoning children in China, or maybe anywhere.

There must be a better way.

One solution is to just throw the shit out.  Sure, it's likely to end up in a landfill somewhere, but landfills are nasty places to begin with.  One more dead Samsung Galaxy isn't going to hurt the landfill. 

You have to be careful when you throw old electronics out, though.  For one, there may be sensitive information still on there.  You don't want company secrets or your old nudie pics to wind up in the hands of terrorists.

So the first thing you need to do is take a hammer and smash that old cell phone or laptop into pieces before you discard it.  If you can figure out how to remove the hard drive from a computer, take it out and give it some serious whacks.

Also, you don't want anyone (especially your neighbors) to see you throw it away afterwards.  They will frown on this behavior.  They will say unkind things about you when you're not around.

They will say that you don't recycle.  

I avoid this problem by throwing out old electronics at night.  Usually, I drive around, and put the stuff in someone else's garbage.  Clever, eh?  

Obviously, it's best to do this on a trash collection night, when the garbage cans are already out by the curb.  The last thing you want is to be humping some old Gateway dinosaur through a strange backyard, looking for trash cans, when the motion detector lights come on.  

Another way to throw out electronics, which works especially well with cell phones, is to get invited onto a friend's boat, or go for an evening booze cruise, or a deep sea fishing expedition.  

Find a moment when no one is looking directly at you, then drop your unwanted phone over the side and into the ocean.  Wait a few seconds, and then shout: 

"Oh jeez, look!  I dropped my phone overboard!  Rats!  I guess I'll have to buy a new one."

The reason you need to wait a few seconds is if you shout right away, someone is liable to fish the phone out before it disappears beneath the waves.  

When that happens, they will make you put the phone in a bowl of rice overnight.  This will dry out the phone, and you'll be right back at square one, a place you don't want to be.

Bad news.  It really works!

An Even Better Option

Okay, keeping the damn thing another year is out of the question, right?

I mean, Christ, you can barely stand touching it, never mind being seen with it.  Right?

And you can't exactly give it away to your nephew or someone like that, can you?  The kid already thinks you're out of touch.  Eighth graders all have the iPhone 12 by now.  

Even so, if there's any way to keep the thing rolling a while longer, that's the best thing to do. 

Now, I understand that's not an option for you.  You MUST get rid of this phone.

There is something called the Basel Action Network.  It is a non-governmental organization named after a town in Switzerland, but which is actually headquartered in Seattle.

The Basel Action Network exists to find ways to enforce a United Nations treaty which seeks to control the dumping of hazardous wastes onto the developing world.  As it turns out (go figure), hazardous waste from rich countries has a funny habit of turning up in poor countries.

One thing the Basel Action Network does is set high standards for true recycling of electronic junk (which they refer to as "e-waste").  They certify groups that meet this standard.  

They call the groups e-Stewards, which is not a name that I'm proud of.  And they have a helpful website with links to these e-Steward groups, who will dispose of your old electronic gizmo in a way that's environmentally friendly, and doesn't involve child labor in far away places.

Give the website a look.  Maybe there's a place right nearby where you can drop off that ugly piece of yesterday's news guilt-free.  Here's the link:


  1. I actually didn't know how to throw away a phone until reading this blog. Frankly, I thought that the only way to dispose of a phone would be to throw it in the trash can. However, I never thought of the alternatives. Perhaps I will apply a few of these tips when the iPhone 7 comes out!

  2. Another good way is to run it over with your car. And back in the day, my ex-wife had perfected the "I forgot it in the seat back in front of me on the airplane," technique. That one is a good way to get rid of unwanted iPods, too.