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 appointments.
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.