From the August 2007 Watchdog Report
for Donating Your Old Cell Phone
Americans are replacing their cell phones
about once every two years to get the latest and greatest model.
So what do we do with all of our leftover phones? An environmentally
friendly solution is to donate the phone to a charity such as Goodwill
or Salvation Army. But does the charity really benefit?
All of the charities AIP contacted that
run cell phone donation programs, including Goodwill and the Wireless
Foundation, sell the phones rather than use them. "Most
donated cell phones don't work very well, if at all," says
Jennifer Comer, program manager at the Wireless Foundation, a non-profit
that collects donated cell phones to raise money for domestic violence.
The Wireless Foundation and Goodwill
Industries of Middle Tennessee in Nashville sell donated cell phones
to ReCellular Inc., a cell phone recycling company, for an average
price of $2-3 per phone. Some models are not sellable, however,
and ReCellular recycles these. ReCellular runs several web sites
that encourage non-profits to raise money with cell phone collection
drives. ReCellular pays for shipping, plus an amount that varies
depending on the model of the phone. ReCellular does not pay for
accessories such as chargers and headsets.
For one local Goodwill, it is still
too early to tell whether its cell phone donation program will be
financially viable. David Alexander, Salvage Supervisor at Goodwill
Industries of Middle Tennessee in Nashville sent out his first shipment
of donated cell phones to ReCellular at the end of January. He believes
their arrangement with ReCellular could be fairly profitable but
mentioned that packing the phones is a bit time-consuming.
Jewish Family & Children's Service
(JFCS) of Boston appears to benefit from its phone donation
program. For about 2 years, JFCS has partnered with Shelter Alliance,
an organization that recycles the cell phones JFCS collects. According
to Elana Premack Sandler, Outreach Coordinator of JFCS' Domestic
Violence Program, Shelter Alliance pays for shipping and provides
marketing materials, such as posters, for JCFS to distribute.
Charities that use donated cell phones
in their programs typically receive new or refurbished cell phones
from companies such as Verizon and Track Phone. For example, JCFS
also receives new phones from Verizon that they use in their domestic
violence prevention program. JCFS provides these phones to survivors
who can use them for emergencies, job seeking and making counseling
Donors seeking to donate their cell phones
should contact local charities involved in collecting household
goods such as Goodwill, Hadassah and ARC, to see if
they will accept them. Another convenient way to recycle your cell
phone for charitable use is to drop it off at your local Sprint,
T-Mobile or other cell phone dealer or print out a mailing label
from their website and drop it in a mailbox. Sprint representative
Darrin Beck stated that since 2001, the company has received over
7 million phones and donated over $4 million to charity through
sales of those phones. The company accepts all makes and models
of handsets, PDAs, and accessories from any service provider, and
donates to charity all of the net proceeds from these sales after
its costs (e.g. shipping, vendor fees, etc.) -- in Sprint's case,
K-12 education. Verizon and T-Mobile offer similar programs benefiting
a number of causes.
If someone solicits you to donate a
used cell phone on behalf of a particular charity, check to make
sure that the charity is legitimate and if the charity is currently
conducting a phone collection drive. According to a March 2006 Seattle
Times article, a couple in Oklahoma allegedly raised over $1 million
soliciting cell phones from 41 states in a charity scam. The couple
allegedly claimed to be raising money for Save a Life Give a
Phone Foundation, a non-existent charity, but kept the money
for their own personal benefit.
Bottom Line: Donating your
used cell phone, which you paid hundreds of dollars for when it
was new, will likely only result in a few dollars benefiting a charity.
But millions of charitable phone donations could add up to some
significant money for charity and reduce the harm to our environment
caused by trashing electrical equipment.