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Ringtone Revival Featured on Sep 09, 2008
Do you have an old cell phone you're no longer using? Reduce CO2 by giving it a new life. Pass it on!
By selling, donating, or recycling one cell phone, you will eliminate an average of 94.1 lbs of CO2.
3781 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 177.9 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 237 homes for about 1 month!
IN COLLABORATION WITH
Last weekend, my young son was running around our yard, flipping open an old cell phone and pretending that he was speaking to Spy Control. It wasn’t more than a year or two ago when that phone was my toy. It was new and shiny and it did lots of things my old cell phone couldn’t. Eventually it got replaced by something even newer. Now, here it was being used to relay information about my neighbor’s “nefarious” and “highly-suspicious” weekend gardening to some imaginary spy master (who presumably doesn’t trust mulch or weed whackers). The phone before that wasn’t even cool enough to be used in a game. It is still sitting in a drawer beneath the checkbook and envelopes. How long before old cell phones filled every nook-and-cranny of my house? And what should I do to foil this fiendish plot? I needed a plan. Maybe you do, too.
This Featured Challenge is based on a suggestion made by V-square. To date, V-square’s suggestion has received 13 positive votes in our Challenge Workshop. V-square is a member of the Green Glory team.
The Carbon Connection
A cell phone doesn’t have a combustion engine. It doesn’t burn gasoline and release carbon dioxide as waste. Yes, it does use electricity to charge its battery when it’s being used and that electricity comes from power plants that probably burn fossil fuels and release CO2. But the biggest problem with cell phones is that they have become semi-disposable. The creation and disposal of all those phones accounts for a great deal of energy used and carbon released. So, it’s important that we use them as long as we can stand it, resell or donate them if they still have useful life, and recycle them responsibly otherwise.
Let’s look at the life cycle of a cell phone. The life of the cell phone starts with the extraction of raw materials from Earth to make each of the components in the phone. For example, the copper wire in the phone starts as copper ore mined from the ground. Next, the raw materials must be processed to make them into a form that can be used. The copper ore must be smelted and refined into copper. That process requires energy. Next the processed materials must be manufactured into parts. Those parts must be made into components and those components eventually made into the entire assembled cell phone. Next the finished cell phone is packaged and transported from factory to retailer. At each step, energy is used and carbon dioxide is released.
The energy and CO2 debt racked up by a cell phone doesn’t end there or even with the electricity needed to charge the phone’s battery. Eventually, the phone is no longer wanted. Then energy is needed to recycle or dispose of the cell phone when it is no longer in use. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read our introduction to Life Cycle Analysis in the Carbonrally blog.)
According to the EPA’s publication, The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone, “Just as living things are born, get older, and die, products also complete a life cycle. Each stage of a product’s life cycle can affect the environment in different ways. Some products, such as cell phones, have many different components, each of which has its own life cycle in addition to the life cycle of the composite product.” The cell phone and its components represent energy that has been used to create that phone. Anything that can be done to prolong that phone’s useful life reduces or postpones the need to use energy to create a new cell phone. And the less energy used, the less carbon is released into Earth’s atmosphere. With worldwide cell phone sales projected to top 1 billion per year in 2009, any effort to reduce those numbers could yield large energy and environmental savings.
Getting It Done
Even with steady improvement, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. cell phones was recycled or reused in the last quarter of 2007. According to a study by iSupply’s ConsumerTrak, almost 37% of obsolete cell phones were simply stored away in drawers and closets by consumers during the last quarter of 2007.
This Challenge is for you to make sure your old cell phones aren’t the ones gathering dust or being tossed in the trash. Here are a few suggestions about how to make that happen:
- By some estimates, more than 85% of old cell phones are not at the end of their life cycle when consumers decide to get a replacement. Those phones can be reused by new owners, either here or overseas. You might consider passing it on to a friend or relative – or selling it to a relative stranger. If they use your old phone, that means they don’t need to buy a new one which, in effect, prevents (or postpones) one more phone from being manufactured. ebay and Craig’s List are a good place to start. Or you can turn to specialist sites such as Gazelle.com, that will pay you cash for your old cell phone and then resell the phone to someone new. Phones that they cannot sell are sent for recycling.
- A second choice is to donate your old cell phone. Some charities gather old cell phones and send them overseas for use in developing countries. The Secure the Call program takes donated phones and turns them into dedicated 911 phones which they distribute to the elderly, school crossing guards, survivors of domestic abuse, and others who might not otherwise have access to a cell phone when they need to call 911. You may find that local schools, churches, and other organizations often take donated cell phones, sell them, and use the proceeds to fund their own programs. Whether you sell or donate your old phone, the next user would appreciate any of the original packaging, manuals, chargers, accessories, etc., that you happen to still have.
- The third choice is to recycle your old cell phone. Recycling an old cell phone means that many of the precious metals, copper, and even plastic that make up the phone are captured and reused instead of winding up in landfills. Recycling those materials saves money and energy when the materials are reused. For example, the metals in the phone can be reused with less energy cost than having to “start from scratch” by mining new metal ore, refining it, etc. According to EPA estimates, if Americans had recycled all of the 100 million cell phones they stopped using in 2006, the energy saved would have been enough to power nearly 200,000 U.S. homes for one year. (Not to mention the recovery of 3.4 metric tons of gold, 1600 metric tons of copper, and 35 metric tons of silver!) Many cell phone manufacturers and retailers collect old cell phones for recycling and are listed by the EPA as partners in EPA’s Plug-In to eCycling program.
- But before you do anything with your old phone, you should make certain that you have erased all of your personal data from the phone. (This is hard to do if the phone has been in your bills drawer for a year or two. So try to remember to “scrub” your phone as soon as you decide to stop using it.) If your old phone has a SIM card, swapping the SIM card from the old phone into a new one brings much of your personal data, such as your directory, etc. If you aren’t switching to a new phone, remove and destroy the SIM card. Don’t forget to remove or delete photos or videos as well before either selling or donating your phone. (Most phone resale companies and charities promise to clean off the phones, but it seems safer for you to do it yourself, if you can.) For “cleaning” instructions specific to your particular brand and model phone, check out ReCellular’s Data Eraser database.
- Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to save energy, reduce carbon dioxide associated with cell phone production, and prevent cell phone waste is to change how often you upgrade your existing cell phone. According to the EPA, the average cell phone in the U.S. is replaced after just 18 months. Try lengthening your own cell phone upgrade cycle to 2 years instead of 18 months. Americans buy over 100 million cell phones per year. If everyone added that extra 6 months to their own phone’s life cycle, it would translate into 25 million fewer phones produced and sold in the U.S. each year. That would mean 13,000 fewer tons of cell-phone waste produced each year. Putting off your cell phone upgrade could also save you money. Like any hot techno gadget, the price of the latest smart phones falls a few months after they are first introduced on the market. For example, the price of the first Apple iPhones dropped by $200 in a little over two months.
Go check out how many old cell phones you have. Were you surprised? What are you going to do with them? Share your thoughts, stories, and suggestions with your fellow Rallyers in the Challenge forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge simply asks that you pass on one of your old cell phones instead of throwing it away or letting it sit in a drawer somewhere. Sell it. Donate it for reuse. Drop it off for recycling. For each old cell phone you get out of your house or dorm, we will credit you with 94.1 lbs of CO2 emissions. This Challenge is repeatable up to 3 times, so you may take it more than once if you are passing on more than one cell phone.
See the Math
Let’s see how much energy-related carbon dioxide you can save by reducing the need for additional cell phone production. Here are the known or estimated numbers being used for this Challenge:
- After many hours of poking around, we have decided to go with a set of calculations put together by Fat Knowledge and based on work originally presented in the International Journal of Life Cycle Analysis. According to Fat Knowledge’s calculations, the manufacturing and subsequent use for one year of one cell phone produces 132 pounds of carbon dioxide. Put another way, that one cell phone is responsible for emitting as much carbon dioxide as burning 6.8 gallons of
- The above numbers include both the energy needed to manufacture and transport one cell phone, as well as the energy needed to operate that cell phone for one year. For this Challenge, we are only interested in the savings associated with manufacturing the phone. So we are going to take 5% off to remove the CO2 associated with yearly operation.
- We are going to introduce an additional 20% adjustment to our numbers. Cell phone manufacturers are making smaller phones that use fewer toxic materials and more recycled or recyclable materials. This 20% adjustment reflects advances made by the manufacturers in the years since the life cycle analysis cited above was written. This adjustment also helps to account for the CO2 associated with transporting your old phone to a new owner or to a recycler.
- We started with 132 pounds of CO2 per cell phone. The total adjustment to our original number is 25%. Reducing 132 pounds of CO2 by 25% gives us a savings of 99 pounds of CO2 per cell phone.
- Finally, we want to account for the phones that will be recycled instead of reused. Let’s say that 10% of the cell phones in this Challenge are recycled. We will count those as saving 50% as much CO2 as the cell phones that get reused; this takes into account energy needed in the recycling process. So those cell phones amount to 49.5 pounds of CO2 instead of 99 pounds.
- Applying a weighted average, we get a final savings of 94.1 pounds of CO2 per cell phone.
So there you have it. Repurposing your cell phone instead of dropping it into a box in the closet saves energy and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Recycling your phone instead of throwing it away keeps hazardous substances out of our landfills and saves energy by recovering precious metals. It’s time to clean house, Rallyers! Send those extra cell phones packing.
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