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Phone recycling program not working well

Recently, when we were doing the Prepaid Reviews activation guides, we noticed that a handful of providers offered a cell phone recycling program. The idea is that you drop your old phone in the provided bag, or save it until you’re done with your current phone. Then you mail it back to the company, and they’ll take care of it. Surely, at least handset companies could make use of old handsets, if for nothing else than scrap metal. However, it seems that these programs aren’t working as well as hoped.

Australia is taking this one by the horns. The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (ATMA) has concluded its analysis of data, and has determined that few phones are actually being recycled. Since mid-2005, a mere three percent of eligible phones have been returned in this manner, at least according to one involved party.

This isn’t to say, though, that phones are laying dormant in landfills — at least not yet. The Total Environmental Center (TEC) believes that while it is not a problem now, it will be in the near future:

“Once the phone is technologically redundant, nobody is going to keep it.”

That certainly makes sense. However, people do tend to keep their old phones as backups — or in our case, to use for photography experiments. Of course, once they get another new phone, the backup becomes totally obsolete, and yes, we would expect it to be tossed in the garbage. Problem is, this poses the same environmental issue as throwing away batteries.

Thankfully, only four percent of people throw away their cell phones. Even more thankfully, this number is down by 50 percent from 2005. So there is hope that recycling programs and consumer awareness are helping curb the threat.

Despite ATMA’s claim that phone recycling is at 30 percent, up from 19 least year, TEC holds firm to its three percent claim. And they think that voluntary measures like the ones currently in place aren’t getting the job done. Citing the lowest common denominator, they want to impose a mandatory deposit on phones.

Yes, because that wouldn’t single-handedly increase the theft of cell phones, would it? We’re not ones for butchering the environment or anything, but imposing a deposit would provide little benefit. Just think about all of the states that have deposits on bottles and cans. Now think of the people who pick though garbages looking for recyclables, because no one wants to haul them down to the recycling center. We think it would be along the same lines with cell phones. If you put a $10 deposit on a phone, it’s not exactly high priority to recover that $10 two years later, especially if you can use the phone as an effective backup.

The long and the short of it is that this is an issue, no doubt, but some people want to take the most simplistic route, because they can do it now. However, we think that if ATMA wants to reach its goals of increasing recycled phone collections by 200 percent and reduce trashed phones by another 50 percent in three years, they’re going to need a more well thought out plan.

[PC World]