You can’t walk down the street anymore without seeing folks chatting on their cell phones. Wireless phones are everywhere and have dramatically altered our public spaces, filling them with unprecedented levels of noise, as one columnist has remarked.

They’re also filling something else: our desk drawers and landfills. An estimated 500 million unused models are floating around, with about 130 million more added every year. This is disturbing news considering that cell phones contain lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic that end up in the water supply when we dispose of phones improperly.

Luckily, there are a bunch of options available for those of us who want to see our old phones reused or recycled. The most comprehensive programs are national or international in scope, including an effort called CollectiveGood. With CollectiveGood, you can safely recycle your old cell phone-any make or model-and help support one of a long list of nonprofits at the same time.

  • To find local cell phone recyclers in the Northwest (or other spots US and Canadian), a good resource is earth911.org. Just type in your zip code and a long list of programs and drop-off points will pop up. Staples stores show up again and again as places to recycle used phones.

    Unfortunately, earth911.org didn’t yield results for recycling cell phones in British Columbia, but the folks at the Recycling Council of BC tell me that any Bell Mobility store will take any model of cell phone for their Recycle, Reuse and Redial Program. Some of the phones go to women’s shelters and some are refurbished for reuse in developing countries.

    Another BC program is the Phone for Food program at the Vancouver Food Bank, (604) 876-3601. Donations of phones translate into revenue for their food program.

    Here are a couple more resources: King County, WA residents can visit this “What do I do with…?” site-choose electronic equipment from the dropdown list; then you’ll be able to narrow your search to cell phone recycling. And anyone can consult these two long lists of phone reuse and recycling options: here and here. These lists include both nonprofit programs and efforts sponsored by wireless corporations.

    If any readers are aware of other Northwest programs or outlets for recycling, please post a comment.