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Choose an eco-friendly cell phone

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An eco-friendly cell phone is one that was made with fewer toxins, is easy to disassemble, and can even be biodegradable. They also manage energy consumption more efficiently and may someday even be equipped with solar cells to get a free, clean charge.

Find it! Eco-friendly cell phone manufacturers

While the US has yet to pass national regulations concerning electronics waste management or standards for toxins in electronics, the EU, Japan, and several individual states have, forcing cell phone manufacturers to rethink how their cell phones are made. Some (such as NEC) are even thinking outside the box, developing biodegradable, corn-based electronics that produce 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than similar petroleum-based devices (although they're not yet available stateside).

Choosing an eco-friendly cell phone helps you go green because...

  • Phones with fewer toxins or that require little effort to disassemble are easier and cheaper to recycle.

A typical cell phone breaks down into the following components: plastics (58 percent), metals (25 percent), ceramics (16 percent), and flame retardants (one percent).[1] The manufacturing of one cell phone also requires about 4.5 pounds of raw materials, including petroleum-based plastics, liquid crystal display materials, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and toxic heavy metals including cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic, antimony, beryllium, and copper. Recycling, rather than dumping these materials saves energy, resources, and money, but is only possible with the devices are easy to take apart.

The typical American retires a cell phone every 18 months, leaving more than 500 million cell phones in landfills.[2] Each year, 130 million cell phones are dumped, creating approximately 67,000 tons of waste annually.[3] It is estimated that less than two percent of discarded cell phones are recycled,[4] and up to 80 percent of the cost for recycling mobile phones comes from the labor used to disassemble them.[5]

Related legislation

In 2006, the European Union passed its Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS), which established standards for the amount of lead, mercury and other toxic substances in electronics. This directive immediately impacted the Palm Treo 650 smartphone, which did not meet requirements. (Palm has since promised to sell a new smartphone that complies with the EU standards.)

Japan also complies with the EU's standards, and although the United States has yet to pass nationwide restrictions, certain states have passed their own directives. In January 2007, California outlawed the sale of most electronics that didn't meet certain EU standards on toxics.

Related health issues

If cell phones are tossed into a landfill rather than recycled, they can leak several toxic chemicals that have been known to cause severe harm to humans and animals, as well as long term damage to the natural environment.


  • cadmium: Found in chip resistors, infrared detectors, and semiconductors. Toxic and bio-accumulative, this chemical can harm kidney systems.
  • lead: Used in the soldering of cell phone circuit boards, it can cause nervous system, kidney, and blood system damage. It is estimated that consumer electronics are responsible for 40 percent of the lead in landfills. From there, it can seep into our drinking water and then accumulate in the environment, affecting plants, animals, and humans.
  • mercury: Found in cell phone batteries and circuit boards, can seep into waterways. This chemical travels through the food chain and can cause brain damage.
  • brominated flame retardants (BFRs): Used on printed circuit boards and components like plastic covers and cables. Once released into the environment through leaching and incineration, cause increased rates of cancer in those who each mercury-contaminated food.

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Biodegradable phones?! Sounds like a great idea, especially since cell phones have such a short lifespan. I just wish we could get these options in the US more readily!

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