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STRATEGY

Recycling Cell Phones for Profit
 

Companies are finding that such environmental strategies can be more than good--they can be profitable.
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With the number of cell phones in use worldwide estimated at more than 1.3 billion by Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn., information technology research firm, companies are finding that recycling phones is not only environmentally sound, but profitable – and often for a good cause.

ReCellular, a company based in Dexter, Mich, collects 75,000 used cell phones a week, mostly through charity fundraisers, and refurbishes them for sale particularly in developing countries, where landlines are costly or unavailable. ReCellular executives say that their business not only makes a profit, but helps “do good,” as well. The company buys donated phones from such charities as the March of Dimes, helping the non-profit raise needed funds.

"The fact that you can combine a business - a profitable business - with a useful service and a charitable good is a win, win, win," says Mike Newman, ReCellular’s vice president.

While the push to recycle cell phones has given many an entrepreneur an idea for a new line of business, it’s also providing incentives for small and medium-sized companies to do the right thing: Here are some reasons to recycle your company’s cell phones:

It's good for the environment

The push to recycle cell phones is part of a quest to “go green” in companies across the U.S. There is a growing body of evidence that some of the metals and plastics and other components used in manufacturing cell phones and other electronics pose health hazards and environmental hazards if they are not properly managed. These products often have heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, which can impact groundwater, and mercury, which accumulates in living organisms and travels up the food chain to humans, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. High mercury concentrations can cause brain damage, the EPA says.

Call 2 Recycle is part of the non-profit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), which helps recycle rechargeable batteries and old cell phones among other goods. The group operates 30,000 drop off sites nationwide in conjunction with businesses, such as Office Depot.

In some location, it's now the law

In some parts of the country, the recycling of old cell phones has to be offered as an option by phone sellers. As of July 2006, any retailer in California selling new cell phones has to provide a way to recycle old models. "Almost 45,000 cell phones are thrown away every day in California -- either into a drawer somewhere or worse, into the trash,” says State Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, one of the sponsors. “Their circuit boards contain myriad toxins ...and have the potential to be released into the air and groundwater when burned in incinerators or disposed of in landfills."

Give something of value to charity

Recycling cell phones can also do a small business some social good. Yes, it helps the environment. But used cell phones also have value for resale or the worth of reusable materials that could be extracted. There are all sorts of charities that now collect phones to help fight domestic violence, provide funds for after-school programs or for veterans groups. Companies such as ReCellular will pay charities for the used phones. Textually.org, a Geneva-based website about how cell phones are used throughout the world, estimates that there is about $9-10 worth of reusable materials inside every kilogram of cell phones being recycled.

Verizon Wireless Hopeline collects used cell phones and accessories from many wireless service providers and then refurbishes the phones or recycles them in an environmentally friendly way. Proceeds from the HopeLine program benefit victims of domestic violence and non-profit advocacy agencies, the company says. But because Verizon is a for-profit entity, it can’t provide a small business with a tax write-off for its donation. According to Verizon, 275,000 phones and 150,000 pounds of batteries were recycled in 2005.

Make quick cash

A growing number of websites like ReCellular offer to pay your company cash for recycled cell phones. Cell For Cash offered a quote of $43 for an RIM 7100i BlackBerry while Cash My Phone quoted $100 for a Motorola RAZR V3. If you have several employees, the resale of old phones when you get a new company plan makes economic sense.

It's good pr

Recycling old cell phones can be profitable, not only to the bottom line, not only for the environment, not only to help charities, but also for a company’s reputation. If customers know you recycle products that could be one of several factors that convince them to keep doing business with your firm. But before donating, remember to terminate the wireless service, clear the phone's memory of stored information and numbers, and remove the SIM card, if there is one.

Last updated: Sep 1, 2006




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