Use Care in Disposing of Your Old Cell Phone
They can be both an environmental hazard and data breach
Consumer Affairs | Mark Huffman
October 16, 2012
Whether you are lining up to buy a new iPhone 5 or one of its many competitors, you then have the problem of what to do with your old cell phone. The last thing you should do is simply throw it away.
Not only are there toxic materials in these devices that should not go into a landfill, there is sensitive information that you should keep out of the hands of people who might misuse it.
Mining for gold
There are plenty of companies advertising online that will buy your old cell phone. In most cases they won't refurbish and resell them but tear them apart for the gold and other materials they contain.
Earthworks, an organization that collects and recycles old cell phones, says recovering the gold found in 50 million cell phones -- iPhone 5 sales are projected to reach 50 million by year's end -- could prevent the creation of 2 million tons of mining waste.
"Recycling helps protect communities and the environment in the U.S. and around the world by keeping hazardous chemicals out of landfills and reducing the demand for conflict mineral mining," said Earthworks' Recycle My Cell Phone Manager Hilary Lewis. She continued, "We hope the public will embrace this easy option for recycling with the guarantee that their devices are being handled responsibly."
All cell phones collected through Earthworks' Recycle My Cell Phone campaign are sent to MPC, a certified IT Asset Lifecycle Management company, where the phones are securely handled in accordance with environmental and data security standards. All cell phones are either sanitized for reuse or physically destroyed and recycled in the United States.
Consumers, however, should not allow their old cell phone to be removed from their possession without first going through some "sanitizing" steps first. Even if you’re sending your phone to a company where the data is securely wiped or the phone is shredded, think about how your phone gets there. If you’re sending it in the mail you can’t be sure that it won’t be lost, or if you’re throwing it in a collection bin at a public drop off site, you never know who could get to your device before that company picks it up.
Steps to follow
So what’s a person to do when the time comes for an upgrade? One authorized method for sanitizing a phone is to delete all information, such as calls made and phone numbers, manually and then perform a full manufacturer’s reset to put the cell phone at its factory default settings. Removing the SIMcard of the phone, a commonplace for stored information, is also recommended.
The Federal Trade Commission says encrypting passwords and other sensitive data stored on your cell phone, and “locking” the keypad while your phone is not in use, can help prevent unauthorized access even after your cell phone is no longer in service. Still, certain data on your phone, including personal contacts, photos and Web search terms, may be recoverable with relatively simple and inexpensive software programs.
Permanent data deletion may require you to clear data from the phone’s contacts and other stored information. Your owner’s manual, your wireless provider’s Website, or the manufacturer will likely provide information on how to permanently delete information from your mobile device.