Consumers Unsure about Cell Phone Recycling

Concerns about data security and where to recycle keep consumers from recycling cell phones, according to ISRI survey.

September 11, 2013
SDB Staff

According to a new online poll conducted by Earth911 for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, D.C., nearly 60 percent of people who do not recycle old cell phones fail to do so because they do not know where to recycle these devices or don’t trust that personal data will be destroyed.

The results of the poll, which was conducted via the Earth911 website from June 20, 2013, to Sept. 9, 2013, and was answered by 923 individuals,  were released at the annual E-Scrap Conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 electronics recyclers, being held this week in Orlando.

“As people anxiously await the arrival of the latest iPhone, it is important to keep in mind the need to recycle old cell phones,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “The results of this poll fall in line with the recent report by the U.S. International Trade Commission indicating that only 25 percent of all household used electronic products are recycled.”

She continued, “Using a certified electronics recycler guarantees that all personal data in the phone will be destroyed and gives the phone a second life either through the recovery of scrap commodities or refurbishment and use by those in this country or abroad who might not otherwise have access to such technology.”

According to the poll, 21 percent of respondents say they have not recycled their phones because they may need them in the future, while 20 percent say they haven’t gotten around to it. Thirty percent say they don’t know where to recycle such devices, while 29 percent of respondents say they are worried about their personal data.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for every million cell phones, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered and reused.

“There’s still so much confusion about how to recycle cell phones and whether it can be done without potentially exposing personal data, even with an eco-savvy audience such as our readership,” said Mario Medina, creative director at Earth911. “Explaining the damage that e-scrap has on the environment and educating people on the options available for safely recycling cell phones will go a long way toward increasing the recycling rates.”

According to ISRI, when considering an electronics recycler, consumers should take the following into account:

  • How long the recycler has been in business;
  • How long the recycler has been handling electronics;
  • Whether the recycler guarantees data destruction; and
  • Whether the recycler is certified to handle electronics. A list of certified electronics recyclers can be found online at

Earth911 provides locations for recycling various items, including cell phones, at