Consummate Consumer

Recycling Phones Can Bring a Payoff

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Don't know what to do with those old cellular phones?

Most people don't.

The average lifespan of a cell phone is about 18 months, according to industry statistics. Users upgrade that often, or change service providers and buy new cell phones.

A recent survey conducted by the nonprofit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. found that more than 56 percent of cell phone users surveyed still have their old cell phones somewhere. Only 2.3 percent recycled them, and more than 70 percent were unaware they could be recycled.

"With 150 million [U.S.] cell phone subscribers and every 18 months they're getting new phones, there are millions of cell phones every month that go inactive," says James Mosieur, CEO of RMS Communications Group in Ocala, Fla. Two years ago, he founded, one of several Web-based businesses that buy back used cell phones from consumers.

"Most people don't realize there could be value in that old phone," says Mosieur. collects 8,000 to 10,000 used cell phones a month, he says. Eighty-five percent of them come from consumers who visit the Web site and find their used cell phones among the 200 to 250 recyclable models listed. They fill out the online form to receive postage-paid boxes for shipping. When the company receives the phone, it sends the check.

How much depends on the make and model. Customers get $5 for a Nokia 5165, one of the oldest models accepts. An NEC 523 earns $43. A Panasonic GU87 goes for $60. "We have phones out there worth three bucks, but we also have phones valued at over $100," says Mosieur.

He resells most of the phones in South America.

So does Robert Newton, owner and president of Old Cell Phone Co. in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He buys back 30,000 used cell phones a month.

"The used cellular phone market down there is huge," says Newton, explaining that cell phone technology in Third World countries trends a step behind technology here, so as U.S. consumers go from digital cell phones to GSM technology, South Americans go from analog to digital.

Newton says most cell phones of the past five years, or "85 percent of the cell phones out there right now," are resalable. The average price his company pays is $12.

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