It was two years ago — in early 2011 — that the number of cellphones in the United States outstripped the number of people. Some of us have more than one phone, which means there’s still a small segment of the population that doesn’t have any. Among it are victims of domestic violence, who live under constant fear of a beating, or worse, from a spouse, former lover, etc. For those people, a cellphone can be a lifeline.
As a story in Thursday’s Gazette related, programs that get used and/or recycled cellphones into the hands of such people, so they can call 911 if necessary, do exist, thanks to the efforts and generosity of local businesses and individuals. In addition, some of the national cellphone service providers run similar programs, collecting customers’ old phones when they buy new ones, scrubbing their memories clean, and getting them to people who need one in an emergency — they’re for this purpose and only this purpose.
It’s a worthwhile undertaking, but not the only reason that keeping old cellphones out of the trash is a good idea. As with most electronics, cellphones contain small amounts of environmentally toxic materials — heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead that shouldn’t be incinerated or landfilled.
A relatively new state law requires manufacturers of such things as TVs, computers and cellphones to set up free and convenient recycling programs, and it properly prohibits them from landfilling anything they take in. But the real impact won’t be felt until 2015, when the prohibition is extended to individuals; until then, they’re free to throw old cellphones and the like into the trash.
Even after 2015, the law won’t prevent consumers from stockpiling old electronics in their homes, which can be environmentally damaging in a fire or flood. The solution here might be to impose some kind of fee at the point of sale (as vendors of car batteries do, for example) if a comparable electronic product is not traded in for recycling.
Too many consumers stash old electronics in their houses for any number of reasons — to have back-ups in case their new ones break is the most legitimate one. But the government needs to do more to discourage that practice — for environmental reasons and, in the case of old cellphones, to make sure there are enough available for needy emergency victims.