Cellular phones contain small amounts of lead, mercury and cadmium, and like computers, they're evolving quickly.
The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association estimates there are 135 million users in the United States, and a study by consulting firm The Strategis Group found the average phone user upgrades his handset every 18 months.
Seth Heine founded Collective Good, am Atlanta mobile-phone recycling company, in May 2000 on the "one man's trash is another man's treasure" philosophy.
With the help of organizations such as Keep Augusta Beautiful and businesses such as Staples, the company collects used cell phones and sells them to distributors in Latin America, where even older models are in demand.
Mr. Heine said Americans' fondness for gadgets, the growing number of cell-phone users and new rules enabling users to keep their number when changing carriers all make for a booming business.
"Five hundred million phones are in this country, and probably 100 to 125 million have been incinerated or put into landfills," he said. "We expanded fivefold from 2001 to 2002. We didn't grow fivefold this year, but we do expect to double or triple."
Even with that growth, it's estimated that only 5 million cell phones will be recycled annually. Like computers, new cell phones often replace still-functioning models that are stashed into drawers for lack of a better option.
Old phones are also accepted at local Alltel outlets on behalf of the Wireless Foundation, which was founded by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. One program that benefits from the donations is "Call To Protect," which provides 911-only phones for domestic-violence victims.
"Generally speaking, consumers are more aware of recycling than they were four years ago, but given that 99 percent of the phones aren't being recycled, there's still an enormous amount of awareness that needs to be generated," Mr. Heine said.
ELECTRONIC RECYCLING RESOURCES
Georgia Department of Community Affairs Office of Environmental Management
PHONE: (404) 679-4940
National Recycling Coalition Electronics Recycling Initiative
PHONE: (202) 347-0450
Collective Good Mobile Phone Recycling
PHONE: (770) 856-9021
The Wireless Foundation
PHONE: (202) 785-0081
Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.