Cell phone recycling at Starbucks | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Cell phone recycling at Starbucks

The founders of a nonprofit startup to bring aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo have a big vision that is going to require big bucks, a lot of help and work.

But they aren’t asking for money – they just want your old cell phones.

Sparks-based Phos International is setting up receptacles at local Starbucks – including cafés in Stateline and South Lake Tahoe – to take old cell phones that are usable, as well as broken, near-trash-can-status phones.

“Less than 1 percent of used cell phones get recycled,” Michael Hansen, of Phos International, said. “That means that the other 99 percent will end up in landfills and that includes several caustic chemicals.”

Cell phones contain arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, nickel and zinc. These chemicals can seep into water supplies.

This is how it works: Phos takes the used cell phones that people have left in receptacles in Reno-area coffee shops, mostly Starbucks locations, to a cell phone recycling company in San Francisco. There, the phones are refurbished into usable phones and spare parts, then sent to South American countries where they are reintroduced onto the market. Once the phones are recycled, the money raised will buy food, medicine and clothing to be shipped to the people of the Congo.

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Hansen learned of the concept of cell phone recycling from Bruce Bawcom, a retired telecommunications contractor who’s worked all over the world.

“Being in the telecommunications industry for years, I knew of a way to lay the groundwork,” Bawcom, a board member of Phos, said. “I saw a need for this.”

Implementation of cell phone receptacles has already begun in five states including coffee shops, gyms, churches, and colleges.

Locally the receptacles are in Starbucks in Gardnerville, Reno, Carson City, Incline Village, Stateline and across the California border, South Lake Tahoe and Truckee. Also in Reno, Deux Gros Nez Coffee Shop, the Pneumatic Dinner and the Purple Bean have receptacles.

Bawcom was living in Miami when he heard of cell phone recycling seven years ago.

“I didn’t know that there was so much value left in the cell phone,” Bawcom said. “It’s still an asset somewhere else in the world.”

In the heart of Africa, the continent’s third largest country is in the midst of a bloody civil war; 3.5 million people have died from fighting in the 7-year struggle. More than 75 percent of the Congolese people are malnourished, 10 to 35 percent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS and millions of people are displaced refugees (forcefully moved refugees).

Implementation of cell phone receptacles has already begun in five states including coffee shops, gyms, churches, and colleges.

Locally the receptacles are in Starbucks in Gardnerville, Reno, Carson City, Incline Village, Stateline and across the California border, South Lake Tahoe and Truckee. Also in Reno, Deux Gros Nez Coffee Shop, the Pneumatic Dinner and the Purple Bean have receptacles.

“Cell phone recycling needs to happen,” Hansen said. “If anything, it’s good for the environment.”