They may be in your desk drawer, your glove compartment, in pieces on your child's bedroom floor. Perhaps you donate them to charity or simply throw them in the garbage.
Whatever their fate, if you do not send them to Heine's company's site--RipMobile.com--or to a similar site, you could be missing a chance to get cash or goods for phones that are useless to you, but possibly useful to others.
Customers who bring
in used devices get
a discount on a new
iPod and free disposal
of the old one.
But why bother gathering them and shipping them out?
"The best rationale would be it's easy, it's free and it helps the environment," said Heine, who is chief executive of CollectiveGood, the cell phone recycling company that also runs RipMobile.
RipMobile is one of many companies willing to pay in cash or merchandise for old cell phones. Prices vary depending on the phone's continued utility and the demand for it; some can be worth $100 or more.
Popular Motorola and Nokia phones will typically are worth $2 to $20; the hottest models, like Motorola's Moto Razr V3, seem to fetch the most. Instead of dollars, RipMobile gives points that can be converted to gift certificates at Circuit City, MSN Music, KarmaLoop (for clothing) and RingToneJukeBox.com (ring tones, games and screen savers for cell phones).
Though cell phone manufacturers and wireless companies may offer buy-back or recycling options, sites like RipMobile offer customers a chance to shop around, deciding the easiest and most lucrative way to profit from their old phones.
At sites like CellforCash.com and OldCellPhone.com, customers can look up their phones by brand and model. After registering, they receive a prepaid shipping label and sometimes a box, so they can pack up and send in their old phones with as little trouble as possible.
Many of the sites take all phones--including clunky, brick-shaped dinosaurs--and simply recycle those that cannot be reused. Phones taken in that still have value are tested, outfitted with any needed accessories and then sold to dealers who resell them as refurbished phones in the United States or abroad. Some phones are donated to charities for use as emergency phones.
Even if cell phones sent in are not worth reselling, precious metals like gold from their circuit boards can be extracted and reused, said Rob Newton, president of OldCell phone.
And by keeping used phones out of landfills, these potential money-making opportunities can also help the environment.
"It's very important to remember that although each phone is small, they're really a bundle of highly toxic materials," because they include chemicals like arsenic, nickel, zinc and lead, said Joanna D. Underwood, president of Inform, a national environmental research organization.
Several companies said they received thousands of phones a month.
"We've had some people send in a couple hundred dollars' worth of phones," Heine said. "I have no doubt that Mom and Dad and the kids are techies, and somebody just drained the drawer and cashed them in."
Some of the sites--like PhoneFund.com of San Rafael, Calif.--also market themselves as possible fund-raising machines for groups ranging from school bands to families trying to get money to adopt a child.
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While the prices that Phonefund offers for used phones are not as high as other companies--$1 to $6 a phone--it pays for every phone sent in, said the company's director, Michelle Shelfer, also chief financial officer of Red Dot Company, the electronics importer and wholesale distributor that runs the site.
Russ Korins, 33, a New Yorker who is a management consultant for small companies, has used OldCell phone and CellForCash with success.
A professed gadget hound, Korins often gets new cell phones, so in the past year he has traded in three old phones--a Motorola V60 and V600 and a Siemens S46--for a total of $134. "To get $30 for something that would otherwise be sitting around or thrown in the garbage is fine," he said.
Dana VanDen Heuvel, 29, founder of a Web log consulting company in Green Bay, Wis., did not have the same luck. He researched some cell phone recycling Web sites and settled on Oldcellphone.com. Based on values listed on the site, he expected to get about $25 total for sending in an old Nokia 5160 and 6160.
VanDen Heuvel says that he never received a check after sending in the phones last fall and that an initial e-mail query to the site went unanswered. The company said this week that it issued a check in November that was never cashed; after corresponding with him in June it is sending a new check.
Despite the delay, VanDen Heuvel says he is not disillusioned with the recycling-for-pay concept.
"I would definitely do it again," he said, "because what are you going to do with an old phone?"
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