Called to Recycle

Maybe it's because Samsung came out with a cell phone thinner than a slice of bread or because Motorola offers one that can store and play iTunes. Whatever the reason for purchasing a new cell phone, residents in Westchester County, N.Y., now only have one option for disposal: recycling. On June 1, the county became one of the first local governments to ban cell phones, specifically, from the garbage.

County Executive Andy Spano says his administration decided to enact the law because of the potentially toxic materials in cell phones combined with the high retirement rate for phones, which he quotes as being at 65,000 tons per year in the United States.

If past performance is any indication, residents should be receptive. At the end of 2004, Westchester began participating in the Verizon Wireless HopeLine Recycling Program, with the money raised from collected phones going to domestic violence shelters. According to the county, more than 7,000 cell phones were collected in 2005. Since the program started, Westchester also has recruited more than 50 collection sites, including schools, businesses and libraries.

As for enforcement, the county has contacted its towns, villages and cities as well as their sanitation departments to publicize the change. “It's not perfect,” Spano says, “but when something happens, they will apply the penalties.” Those penalties range from a warning for first-time offenders to a maximum $250 fine for the third incident.

Spano's intention is for the law to complement existing environmental programs. “There's no silver bullet to protecting the environment,” he says. “You have to do little things like this.”