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What Happens When Cell Phones Are Not Properly Recycled?

Feb 11, 2022 •

Cell phones are made from components that don’t break down easily (or at all) and can contaminate the surrounding environment if phones aren’t properly disposed of. Here’s what can happen when a cell phone isn’t recycled.

Unrecycled Phones End Up in Landfills

When cell phones aren’t recycled, they usually end up in landfills or other dumps. Local, regional, national, and international dumps are full of phones, and the number only increases each year. Phones are regularly added but don’t degrade.

The phones that go into landfills don’t break down, but instead, leech chemicals into the surrounding environment over time. These chemicals can come from phones’ plastic cases, metallic circuitry, semi-liquid LCD screens, and chemicals in their lithium-ion batteries.

Any number of compounds and chemicals can leech from phones, but just three metals show how serious contamination can be:

  • Cadmium can cause cancer, and harm the cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems
  • Lead can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage, and negatively impact intellectual capabilities
  • Mercury can negatively impact intellectual capabilities, reflexes, and fine an gross motor skills

These and other compounds can impact any people or animals that ingest them, and they also aren’t good for plants. Because the compounds leech into bodies of water, groundwater, and soil, they inevitably are eventually injected by plants, animals, and people.

Of course, phones also take up space in landfills. The size of a single cell phone might be small, but the cumulative space that’s required is quite sizeable when you take into account how many old phones there are.

A Major Environmental Problem

The sheer pervasiveness of cell phones makes unrecycled phones a major environmental problem.

Virtually every adult in the United States has their own phone, and many people have more than one if you consider old phones. The situation is similar in many other countries around the world, including less developed ones.

In the United States alone, an estimated 600 million old cell phones could be recycled. That number is anticipated to increase by 100 million in the coming year and would be multiples greater if other countries were taken into account. It’s not inconceivable that 1 billion old phones could be recycled.

Moreover, these figures also don’t take into account tablets and other mobile devices. Although tablets aren’t nearly as common as phones, they too would add to these enormous numbers.

Responsibly Recycle Cell Phones

When cell phones are properly recycled, their environmental impact can be greatly reduced in several ways.

First, some cell phones can be resold on the secondary market. Every phone that’s sold as a pre-owned unit is one less phone that enters a landfill right now. It also lessens the demand for new phones, thereby reducing how many new phones that will eventually have to be disposed of are manufactured.

Second, all components that can be recycled should be. Plastic cases can be melted down and remade into a product, and most of the metals used internally (or for cases) can likewise be smelted. This keeps them out of landfills and reduces new plastic manufacturing/metal mining.

Third, some toxic metals unfortunately can’t be recycled. These should be properly discarded of, though, so that they don’t leech contaminants from landfills or dumps.

MLG Cash Prioritizes Environmental Responsibility

At MLG Cash, we’ve built environmental responsibility into the core of our business model. We reuse phones that can be, and we recycle those that no longer have value on the secondary market. All components that can be recycled are, and those that can’t be are properly disposed of.

We also take environmental responsibility a step further, though. We plant a tree for every phone that we receive. One tree might seem like a small thing to do, but one phone is small too. When taken all together, the trees that are planted could have a massive impact. Those 600 million phones in the U.S. would be a small forest — and help counter deforestation that occurs throughout the world.

Recycle Your Phone With MLG Cash

Together, we can have a literally massive green impact. You can recycle your phone in just a few minutes, by filling out our online quote tool and bringing the phone to a UPS Store location. We’ll pay you top dollar for the phone, pay instantly when you drop it off, and recycle the cell phone in a responsible manner.