You took the plunge and bought a cellular phone a few years ago. But you've started to notice that it doesn't do the somersaults and tricks that newer cell phones do. So you plunge again and buy a brand-new model.
But you can't just toss the old one in the trash. Can you recycle it? Can you upgrade it? Can you give it to charity?
Eric Rosenberg dropped those questions in my ample lap a few weeks ago after his family traded up to a new digital cell phone. Being a community-minded soul, and knowing that I try to be the same, Eric was primarily interested in donating his old phone to a nonprofit organization or school. Could I help him find one?
Alas, the old phone wouldn't do a charity or a school any more good than it would do Eric, researcher Lynn Ryzewicz discovered. But she also learned of a whole new industry that has cropped up -- the cell phone refurbishing industry.
Bob Hutchinson, president of the Wireless Industry Association, said owners like Eric can sell their old phones to a rapidly growing number of companies that specialize in buying outmoded cell phones. Prices usually range from $15 for phones with no special features to $25 for "loaded" models, Bob said.
Typically, buyers will be smaller companies, like Strictly Business (202-291-7331) and Wireless Paging and Cellular (202-628-2337) in the Washington area. Spokesmen for Bell Atlantic and AT&T said they used to buy back outmoded cell phones, but no longer do.
Phone purchasers then sell old phones to refurbishers in bulk. Refurbishers update software, install a new battery, give the phone a new guarantee and offer it for sale again. The price: about $75, Bob said.
He said 2 million to 3 million phones are traded across his organization's Web site each year (www.wirelessindustry.com). He added that the refurbishing industry is larger today than the entire cell phone industry was six years ago.
So how could Eric get his wish and see profits flow to charities from old cell phones? It would be up to charities to accept donated phones, then sell them to "bundlers" for $25 apiece. If that sounds like too small a sum to bother about, you must not have seen a nonprofit's balance sheet lately.
The whole process could be lubricated if there were a universally available tax deduction for donated cell phones. But that hasn't happened, and there's no reason to think it will.
Still, charities can jump into this market and help themselves, as many have by accepting and reselling cars, out-of-fashion computers, even scrap metal. Thanks to Eric for opening the doors to an answer.
If you're married to one woman and the father of another, you quickly learn that conversations about women's fashions can turn absurd -- and usually do.
Typical dialogue in my house:
Female-type person: "Do you like my dress?"
Bob-type person: "I like it a lot."
Female-type person: "If you don't like it, all you have to do is say so."
So I venture into the world of pockets on women's clothes with some trepidation. Yet Deborah A. Vollmer, of Chevy Chase, dragged me there, and she makes a good case.
Deborah notes that in two recent columns, I mentioned that a solution would be to cram the key item into one's pocket. Those columns reeked of male hormones, Deborah says, because whenever she tries to shop for business suits and dresses, she cannot find anything that contains both style and pockets.
"I am frequently told [by sales personnel] that women like to have skirts and dresses without pockets because they provide a slimmer look," Deborah says. "I suspect that the real reason has to do with corporate profits. It takes less material to create a garment without pockets."
Deborah's bottom-line plea to manufacturers: "Please, give us a choice."
Two of the biggest names in the fashion biz say they already do.
Patty Cohen, who said she handles "statements" for designer Donna Karan, said most of the Karan women's line has pockets. "Donna, being a woman, is all about functionality and comfort," Patty said. "I've been wearing her clothes for 15 years and never felt there was a problem."
A public relations representative for Calvin Klein, who wouldn't give her full name, said pocketlessness isn't a problem for the Klein line, either. Klein clothes have pockets, for the most part, the PR person said.
So now you know which brands to investigate, Deborah. Happy hunting. Just don't ask me how good you look in whatever you buy. As the women in my family can tell you, I haven't figured out how to deliver a persuasive answer yet.
Thanks to Gary Goldberg for eagle-eyeing the sign posted in front of Hughes United Methodist Church in Wheaton. Where one would normally expect to find a message of religious inspiration, Hughes had posted this: