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Group targets cell phone waste

Environmental research group Inform is calling on cell phone makers to think green in designing their products.

An environmental research group is calling on cell phone makers to think green in designing their products.

New York-based Inform on Wednesday released a report highlighting what it says are the environmental and health threats posed by discarded cell phones. By 2005, the group says, 130 million of the devices--totaling about 65,000 tons--will be thrown away every year in the United States.

Once the phones end up in landfills or incinerators, they could pose a problem because of ingredients such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and flame-retarding chemicals, according to Inform. That warning echoes the word from other environmental groups and a number of governments about the dangers posed by other types of "e-waste" such as discarded PCs and computer monitors.

Inform wants manufacturers to reduce the use of those substances in cell phones and to design them for easier disassembly, reuse and recycling. It is also calling for manufacturers to implement take-back programs and to provide financial incentives to encourage consumers to return their old cell phones and other wireless electronic devices such as pagers, portable digital assistants and MP3 players.

PC makers and electronics makers have already started experimenting here and there with take-back programs--often at a small cost to the consumer--and are moving slowly toward an industrywide system.

Cell phone sales have been relatively sluggish in recent months, but still total some 400 million handsets sold worldwide every year, according to industry researchers.