RecycleFirst in the News
Almost everyone owns a cell phone these days, but what happens when it breaks? Or when you want a new model?
Many old phones are thrown out with the trash, experts say, and often wind up in a landfill. There, the phone’s toxic ingredients – including lead, mercury and silver – can leach into soil and pollute groundwater.
To reduce the environmental threat, the regional trash agency this week announced a new recycling program for cell phones called “eCycling,” the first permanent electronics recycling initiative in South Hampton Roads.
“We’ve been looking to move in this direction for some time,” said Richard Cheliras, director of environmental and safety management for the Southeastern Public Service Authority. “We’re glad it’s now come together.”
If reliable contractors can be found, Cheliras said, SPSA wants to offer eCycling programs for other electronic items, such as computers, TVs, printers and VCRs
The cell-phone program began about six weeks ago, he said, but only now is being announced to residents and businesses.
Cell phones can be dropped off free at one of eight household hazardous-waste facilities in the region. Businesses can deliver phones to the same locations but will be charged a $15 fee.
Junk electronics are becoming a major environmental issue in the Information Age. A recent study for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that by 2005, 45 million computers – each containing traces of lead, cadmium and other hazardous chemicals – will have been dumped into landfills across the country.
Product manufacturers, environmental entrepreneurs and governments have started to take action, however slowly. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, for example, is waiting for the federal government to give directions on how best to proceed, not knowing whether electronic components will be declared a hazardous waste or not.
Earlier this month , California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a landmark law requiring cell-phone stores to accept old phones from customers at no cost and to recycle them.
Several retail stores, including some doing business in Virginia, already offer such a service. One company, RecycleFirst , pays schools, charities and companies to box up their old phones and ship them to its headquarters in Dover, N.H .
“Nothing ends up in a landfill,” said Bruce Steinberg , vice president of the year-old firm, which works with AT&T, Verizon and other large-volume cellular providers.
SPSA is sending its phones to Metal Conversions Technologies , a company in Cartersville, Ga., that expects to make money by recycling the phones’ rechargable batteries.
Cheliras said the company will refurbish as many phones as possible and give them to charities or battered-women’s shelters. The others will be ground up and reused to make other products, he said.
SPSA, a public agency that handles most trash and recycling needs in South Hampton Road, expects to break even with the project, Cheliras said.
Felicia Walker Blow , a SPSA spokeswoman, said cell phones tossed into household trash cans either are buried in the Regional Landfill in Suffolk or incinerated at a waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth.
She said the agency will encourage customers to take their phones to a household hazardous-waste facility.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.