Students who avidly keep an eye on the latest iPhone or Android phone may want to think twice before tossing their old phones into the garbage if they want to help save the environment.
ReCellular, a company founded in 1991 and headquartered in Ann Arbor, specializes in the resale and recycling of electronics, such as cell phones, tablets and netbooks. The company aims to encourage users both nationally and internationally to sell or donate their electronic devices to the company so that the devices can be resold or disposed of properly.
According to Joe McKeown, vice president of marketing at ReCellular, the company receives about 400,000 to 500,000 cell phones per month.
McKeown said the company receives the electronics primarily through direct contact with phone carriers such as AT&T or Verizon, partnerships with 20-30 charity organizations and consumers who use the ReCellular website.
Some of their charity partners include Susan B. Komen for the Cure and the American Red Cross, but McKeown said the company’s most popular charity partner is Cell Phones for Soldiers — an organization that provides military personnel overseas with free means of communicating with family members.
“Our charity partners lever their sponsors and their membership to donate phones,” McKeown said. “We then compensate the charity for those phones.”
Even though it is an Ann Arbor-based company, ReCellular also has a branch in Hong Kong. McKeown said the company is also working with countries in Latin America through a Hispanic sales team.
He added that the company’s sales rate has been at a “consistent growth,” and sales are back up following a small decline last year.
“We had a little bit of a blip last year because a lot of people were donating their used feature phones, wanting to buy new smart phones,” he said. “We had to work down our inventory a little bit, but we’re back on the growth curve and growing 20-25 percent a year.”
McKeown said the company prefers “recommercing” the phones they receive because it allows for the reuse of old phones instead of remaking new ones.
“Recommercing is better than recycling because it gives (cell phones) a second or third life and you won’t have to make a new one,” he said. “Those phones that are at the end of their useful life, we recycle those with our recycling partners. We’re zero landfill … we audit our partners so we make sure we have things done the right way.”
McKeown said the environmental impact ReCellular has made has been significant.
“We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of pounds of landfill,” he said. “We recycle enough gold to make five to six thousand wedding bands, and we recycle enough copper to actually wrap the Statue of Liberty.”
Rita Loch-Caruso, a professor in the School of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, said improper disposal of electronic devices can be hazardous to the environment because they can release potent chemicals into the air.
“Among the many concerns, electronic devices have toxic chemicals that can get released into the environment during recycling,” she said. “Exposure of workers (in the recycling industry) is also a concern.”
Loch-Caruso explained that many of the harmful chemicals that electronics emit are “endocrine disruptors,” which means that they interfere with hormones in humans and animals and can result in a variety of permanent developmental problems.
LSA senior Jennifer Thomas said she switches phones when her contract ends every two years, and chooses to keep her old phones rather than throw them away or recycling them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown (a cell phone) away,” Thomas said. “I feel like I have a stock pile at home … I gave my latest one to my nephew to play with.”
LSA junior Megan Cole explained that while she recycled her first phone herself, her current carrier, AT&T, now recycles her phones for her.
“When I was with Verizon still, I took it to an electronic recycler, but the second time when I switched, AT&T took it at the store,” she said.