I am often the lucky recipient of information on topics that impact women. When I have the opportunity to meet (albeit in a virtual sense) someone who is working on our behalf - and on behalf of the community of man as a whole (I don't ascribed to the problems with the word 'man' referring to all of us - it suits, so I use it), I'm always eager to share. Here's an interview with Mike Newman, Vice President of ReCellular, on a program to recycle old cell phones and help victims of domestic violence. The really good news is that he has information on how YOU can help. Read on...
Yvonne: Mike, the press release I received had a very compelling subject line. It said: Cell phone donations help domestic violence agencies and environment. Let's get to the heart of the matter - we're talking people here, not agencies. Aren't we? Isn't this program to help protect people, specifically, women?
Mike: Yes, we are ultimately talking about people. There are wonderful agencies providing much needed support to domestic violence survivors. Cell phone donations have given lifelines to tens of thousands of women, and provided millions of dollars to the programs they rely on.
Yvonne: My readers and I will be most interested in the people connection. Can you give us some insight into how this idea came to be? Whose idea was it and how hard did he or she have to work to get it approved? Whose approval was hardest to get?
Mike: The idea started with The Wireless Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CTIA, the industry lobbying organization. I would recommend you talk to the director, David Diggs. He can provide greater insight. ReCellular has been there from the start providing all the logistical support necessary to make these programs a success. [Mike, can you introduce me to David?]
Yvonne: I haven't thought much about "e-waste" until now. This topic brought up some interesting thoughts - like, if we don't donate our cell phones, what usually happens to them?
Mike: Most consumers have an understanding that their phone has value and should not be thrown in the garbage. The problem is that few ultimately take advantage of the donation and recycling options available to them. The typical phone will sit in a drawer or closet for months or years before being thrown in the garbage. This is despite the fact that most American’s now live within a few miles of a phone recycling drop-off point.
Yvonne: I'm intrigued by the Rethink Initiative by The Wireless Foundation. Can you comment on that?
Mike: Rethink is actually an eBay initiative, not from the Foundation. From my work with them, I believe they are viewing Rethink as an opportunity to create a destination spot for individuals looking for information on how to recycle their electronics. eBay would like for it to be a comprehensive source of all credible options.
Yvonne: How long will you be doing this? Is this only in the U.S. or is it international?
Mike: I believe that their will always be a need for recycling phones. As a result, there should always be a need for the services that we provide. Just last month we launched the first phone recycling program in Venezuela. We now have national programs in the United States, Canada, and Venezuela, with two more South American countries coming on board in the next few months.
Yvonne: Can you estimate how many phones have been collected?
Mike: ReCellular collects 3 million or more per year. Independent estimates have us at 50% of the market, so my assumption is that approximately 6 million phones are collected by private companies every year. It is also important to factor in the phones that are returned for warranty repairs, or that are sold on eBay. I would at least double that 6 million number, so that there are potentially 15 million phones recycled every year.
Yvonne: Paint a scene for us - when a phone is donated, what happens to it? Who benefits, exactly, and how does she benefit?
Mike: Hundreds of boxes and envelopes arrive at our dock every day from around the country. The phones, batteries and accessories are all unpacked. Each phone has a unique identifying number that is scanned into our system, giving the collecting organization credit for that phone. Obsolete or badly damaged phones are sent off to be recycled. All other phones are put through a testing protocol to make sure they are functional and have all their personal information removed; any broken phones are fixed so that they can be reused.
From here, phones are placed into inventory and sold around the world. ReCellular sells more than 500 models of phones; more than half the phones we sell end up in developing markets where the price of a new phone is prohibitive to many consumers.
Yvonne: It seems to me that this is a bigger issue than we have time to cover here. I was reading the information about Lifetime's Stop the Violence event and it struck me that for all the publicity it got, I hadn't heard about it. How can we bloggers help get the word out and keep it top of mind?
Mike: You have identified the biggest challenges – education and motivation. The phones are out there, and people believe in the cause. Until phone donation and recycling becomes a standard activity for consumers, we will struggle to get the majority of phones. I think that bloggers ability to reach motivated individuals can make a significant difference for these important causes, but also for the environment.
Yvonne: Which leads me to ask...why don't you have a blog? This subject cries out for a blog.
Mike: We have had a number of internal conversations about starting a blog. The biggest challenge is resources! We are all so busy growing the company we haven’t been able to get it organized yet. I suspect that we will have something in place in the next few months. [I hope you will let me know. Perhaps I can help? I know a thing or two about blogs. :-)]
Yvonne: Let's end this with some advice on how to start a program like this in our local area. Can you help make that happen? Is there a link we can visit to see if there is already a program in our area, that we can partner with? Thank you for the interview and please keep us informed on this program by letting me know when there are updated news reports.
Mike: There are a few options for people looking to do local collections. You can sign-up to manage your own program through our website. It is a fully automated site that gives you all the tools you need to run a successful program.
Or, you can find your nearest existing drop-off location at Wireless Recycling. Simply enter your zip code and it will give you the name, address and map of each recycling center. You can refine the search by cause if you want as well.
You can also organize a program for an existing cause by going to Wireless Recyling Donations. This lists off national programs for you to choose from.
Thank you, Mike. This taught me something and is good food for thought. Let me know when you start your blog. The education you talked about earlier can start there.