Energy & Environment

"Turn in Your Cell Phone"

Westchester County puts the recycling burden on consumers
by | May 2006

in June, Westchester County, New York, will require its residents to dispose of their no-longer-used cell phones through county-approved recycling programs. Under the new law, anyone caught throwing away a cell phone could be fined up to $250.

The legislation is aimed at keeping the devices out of landfills and incinerators. The phones contain arsenic, copper, lead, nickel and zinc--chemicals associated with cancer and multiple reproductive, neurological and developmental disorders. As the phones decompose in landfills, the pollutants escape into the air and seep into soil and groundwater. If cell phones are incinerated, the chemicals in them form toxic dioxins and volatile compounds.

Westchester County does not currently have data for how many cell phones are winding up in its landfills--nationally, 130 million cell phones are disposed of every year--nor has the county noticed any significant environmental problems in its landfills or incinerator. But given the growing popularity of cell phones and the chemicals in them, it is "only logical that we try to divert this away from going into" those systems, says James Hogan, director of the Westchester County recycling office.

The county expects to have a measure of the first-year performance of the mandatory program by early 2007. That is when cell phone recycling centers are required to release a report documenting how many phones they recycled. Hogan is optimisitic about citizen compliance since many Westchester County residents already have been turning their phones in voluntarily through Verizon Hopeline, a public-private program that collects phones and recycles or distributes them. Last year, 7,000 phones in the county were recycled through this program.

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