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New Cellphone Recycling Program Offers Instant Credit

V CAST Mobile TV service from Verizon Wireless costs extra $15 per month and is already available on these Samsung phones. (Image credit: Verizon Wireless)

Las Vegas - A new company called eRecyclingCorps today debuted the first mobile phone recycling program to offer instant credit to customers at wireless stores across the nation.

The program could increase the percentage of Americans who recycle their phones from a modest 10 percent to a whopping 90 percent, cutting cellular e-waste without adding to landfills.

"This problem will not be solved until you can leave the phone at the store when you get your new device," said David Edmondson, a former Radio Shack president and currently the CEO of eRecyclingCorps. "And you ought to be able to get rewarded on the spot."

Edmondson said that thus far efforts to encourage people to recycle their phones have been "admirable, but inadequate."

A recent study by the technology analyst firm ABI Research revealed that 98 percent of cellphone users would recycle their phones if given a meaningful incentive.

An unintentional problem

Edmondson heads eRecyclingCorps with Ron LeMay, a former president and COO of Sprint. The pair say they co-founded their Dallas-based company to help correct a problem caused by the rapid adoption of mobile phones — a problem they unintentionally helped to create. (Read more about e-waste.)

"Although we take great pride in what we accomplished in our careers in creating an industry that changed people's lives, it did create an unintended consequence and we feel personally responsible for that," Edmondson told TechNewsDaily. "We want to try and solve that problem before we go on to the next world."

LeMay's former company, Sprint, is the first carrier to use eRecyclingCorps, and has deployed the system in 2,500 stores and through its online channels.

Sprint will take up to three phones in trade-in, and the credit can be applied toward a new phone. Sprint customers may apply the credit to the cost of a new phone, to their monthly service fee, or to purchase phone accessories.

To be eligible for a trade-in credit, the screen must be intact and the phone must power up. Credits range from $5 to over $300 per phone depending on age and model, much like used cars.

Additional phones and accessories like chargers may be turned in at the store as well, but will not receive a credit. Sprint announced an ambitious goal to achieve a wireless reuse and recycling rate of 90 percent by 2017.

A booming business

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 1 billion old cellphones sitting unused in U.S. households in drawers and closets. Stacked one on top of the other, the phones would be one-and-a-half times the height of Mount Everest.

Edmondson values these retired devices at $2.5 billion dollars in customer credit.

EPA estimates an additional 130 million phones will be retired in 2010. These to-be-recycled cellphones represent $3.3 billion based on eRecyclingCorp's buy-back rates.

eRecyclingCorps installs in-store recycling centers and uses strict privacy controls to make sure all data is wiped from each phone.

Each phone is tracked by its unique electronic serial number from the time it is turned in at the store to its departure from the refurbishment center, Edmondson explained.

eRecyclingCorps determines whether a phone can be refurbished and resold or sent off to a certified recycling center, where it gets melted down for its component parts.

"Zero, nada, nothing ends up in a landfill," Edmondson said.

Based on the early results of the eRecyclingCorps program at Sprint, Edmondson said he feels confident his company has what it takes to make a significant impact on the e-waste problem.

"It far exceeded what anybody thought would happen," Edmondson said."The consumer loves it."

Leslie Meredith is a contributor to Live Science. She has a bachelor's degree from UCLA in psychology and has directed tourism and ski publications for the Salt Lake Visitor & Convention Bureau and managed promotions and events for Sunset Magazine.