EarthTalk: What happens to my old cell phone
after I upgrade? Do the stores really recycle them or give
them to the poor, or are they just ending up in landfills?
Where can I take mine to ensure that it is dealt with properly?
-- Paul G., Reno NV
cellphones proliferate they are giving computers and monitors
some competition for the dubious distinction as the largest
contributor to the world’s growing e-waste problem.
Indeed, toxin-laden electronics are clogging landfills and
polluting air and groundwater supplies from coast to coast.
average North American gets a new cellphone every 18 to
24 months, making old phones—many which contain hazardous
materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame
retardants and arsenic—the fastest growing type of
manufactured garbage in the nation. According to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans discard
125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste.
a new breed of electronics recyclers is stepping in to help.
Call2Recycle, a nonprofit organization, offers consumers
and retailers in the U.S. and Canada simple ways to recycle
old phones. Consumers can enter their zipcode on the group’s
website and be directed to a drop box in their area. Most
major electronics retailers, from Radio Shack to Office
Depot, participate in the program and offer Call2Recycle
drop-boxes in their stores. Call2Recycle recovers the phones
and sells them back to manufacturers which either refurbish
and resell them or recycle their parts for use in making
CollectiveGood organization takes used cellphones, refurbishes
them and then re-sells them to distributors and carriers
for use primarily in developing countries, providing affordable
communications to poorer citizens while helping to “bridge
the digital divide.” They also recycle all non-functioning
batteries through a partnership with the Rechargeable Battery
Recycling Corporation. When you donate your phone to CollectiveGood
you can direct the profits from the sales to a charity of
player is ReCellular, which manages the in-store collection
programs for Bell Mobility, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Best Buy
and Verizon. The company also maintains partnerships with
Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, Goodwill Industries and
other nonprofits that undertake cellphone collection drives
as a way of funding their charitable work. According to
ReCellular vice-president Mike Newman, the company is trying
to change attitudes about used cellphones, to get consumers
to “automatically think of recycling cellphones just
like they currently do with paper, plastic or glass.
the U.S. or Canada mandates electronics recycling of any
kind at the federal level, but a few states and provinces
are getting into the act at their own initiative. California
recently passed the first cellphone recycling law in North
America. As of July 1, 2006, electronics retailers doing
business there must have a cellphone recycling system in
place in order to legally sell their products, whether online
or in-store. Other U.S. states considering similar legislation
include Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Vermont
and Virginia, while the Canadian provinces of British Columbia,
Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are likely to jump
on the mandatory cell phone recycling bandwagon soon.
EarthTalk: Are there nontoxic substitutes for
Scotchgard? I just re-covered an antique chair and I want
to protect the fabric from spills and dog paws.
-- Don Cummings, Los Angeles, CA
created by accident in a 3M laboratory a half-century ago
after an experimental chemical formula spilled onto a technician’s
sneaker. Remarkably, it kept the spot clean despite the
rest of the canvas fabric collecting dirt over time. Scotchgard
went on to become famous for its almost-magical ability
to protect clothes, carpets and furniture from water, dirt
and stains. 3M later created variations for use in food
containers, denture cleaners, floor polishes, firefighting
foams and many other products.
But in May 2000,
3M started phasing out production, citing evidence that
the key ingredient of the product, perfluorooctane sulfonate
(PFOS), was becoming ubiquitous in the environment as well
as in the bloodstreams of humans and wildlife. Some environmentalists
say that 3M was being no model citizen in doing so. According
to the Environmental Working Group, “The more than
1,000 documents in [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s
(EPA)’s] Administrative Record on Scotchgard—some
29,000 pages of material—show clearly that 3M knew
its products were in the blood of the general population
as early as 1976 and had detected PFOS in their own plant
workers as early as 1979.” 3M waited more than 20
years, they say, under threats from the EPA, to remove the
chemical from the marketplace.
PFOS is a “fluorocarbon”
similar to the chemicals banned by the Montreal Protocol
for depleting Earth’s ozone layer. It builds up in
the environment, eventually “bioaccumulating”
in the food chain whereby people and animals retain larger
and larger amounts in their blood and tissue over time.
PFOS combines “persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity
properties to an extraordinary degree,” says the EPA.
3M has since
developed a new Scotchgard formulation free of PFOS, using
instead a related substance, perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS).
3M worked extensively with EPA scientists in developing
the formula, and claims that PFBS does not share the toxicity
or bioaccumulation tendencies of its PFOS cousin. PFBS is
still too new for researchers to know whether or not these
claims will be borne out over time, and the EPA is not releasing
the results of the dozens of studies it conducted on PFBS
in conjunction with 3M.
for those not willing to take the risk, few alternatives
work as effectively at protecting fabrics. Vectra Spray,
which is based on a chemical similar to PFBS, is one option.
Its manufacturer, Georgia-based Vectra Enterprises, has
solicited independent tests that determined the product
to be non-toxic and safe. It can also be sprayed onto fabrics
and other surfaces previously treated with the old version
of Scotchgard, says Vectra, to lock the harmful PFOS in
place so it can’t get out into the environment.
But for those
averse to using any synthetic chemical on their furniture,
carpets and other valuables, the best solution might just
be to choose a busy fabric pattern that can hide stains
if they do happen, and to treat any such accidents with
an all-natural spot cleaner such as Orange Sol, Castor and
Pollux’ Out Spot! or Ecover’s Stain Remover.
While these all-natural formulas won’t protect fabric
the way Scotchgard does, they do a good job of removing
stains after the fact.
& Pollux; Ecover.
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