What happens to our smartphones once we discard them?

You sell, recycle, and donate your old phones, but what happens after that?

If you don’t chuck your electronics down the trash chute (and please don’t,) the most likely cycle is that the phone will be refurbished and resold, one way or another.

Electronic waste is a huge problem around the globe. The worst-case scenario is that electronic trash winds up in unregulated or mismanaged heaps, slowly leaking corrosive chemicals into the soil and water table.Capture

Nickel, cadmium, mercury, and lead can leach poisons into the earth, taking 20 years or more to decompose.

“One cell phone in the trash isn’t a big deal,” said Steve Manning, CEO of cell phone reseller ReCellular. “100 million in the trash is an environmental disaster.”

Capture

So, where do dead cell phones go? The first place you’ll see them is back in people’s hands. A few phones may get turned into emergency devices to dial 911; these often wind up in shelters serving victims of domestic violence, or in the hands of elderly users.

A much more likely scenario is refurbishment. Whether you donate to a charity, sell your phone online or in a retail store, or drop it off at a recycler, the first order of business for most is to refurbish the phones and sell them back on the thriving secondary market.

What happens to the leftovers?
Phones deemed unfit to remain whole are likely to get dismantled by a recycling facility, with the bits and pieces sold into the commodities market. Nickel, steel, glass, and plastic materials are still valuable, either whole or melted down and turned into something else.

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