Cell Phone History

CALIFORNIA OFFICIALS AND environmental groups are hoping a new law will help prevent cell phones from landing in the state's landfills. In late September, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004 (Assembly Bill 2901), which requires cell phone sellers to take back and recycle old phones at no cost to consumers, beginning on July 1, 2006.

California is the first state to impose such a requirement, says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, an environmental group headquartered in Sacramento, Calif. Each day, Californians cast aside about 25,000 cell phones, of which only 5 percent are currently being recycled, he adds. Phones that are not recycled often end up in landfills, although it is impossible to determine the number since there is no system for tracking what consumers do with non-recycled phones, Murray says.

A study conducted by the University of Florida's Solid and Hazardous Waste Engineering Program showed that cell phones often contain hazardous amounts of materials such as lead and cadmium. The toxins have the potential to be released into groundwater when buried in landfills, according to Californians Against Waste.

Phone retailers that are skittish about the costs of operating a recycling system may find relief in third-party recycling companies anxious to cash in on the strong demand for used cell phones in Latin America and Asia, says Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who introduced the bill. Some of these companies have indicated to Pavley that they would operate collection systems at no charge to the retailer, she says.

The cell phone bill is not the only recycling related news to emerge from California. In the early fall, Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 338, which would have required the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to steadily increase its use of asphalt made in part from scrap tires to pave roads. Approximately 32 million scrap tires are generated each year in California, according to Murray. About 75 percent of those tires are diverted to some end use, such as being used to create fuel for cement kilns, he says. The bill would have reduced the amount of the tires that end up being dumped, either legally or illegally, by about 2 million in its first year, Murray says.

In a letter to the California State Assembly, Schwarzenegger said he is generally supportive of the bill. However, he said he vetoed the measure because it required the scrap tires used to create the asphalt to come only from the United States, which he thought might violate international trade agreements.

The California governor also signed in late September Senate Bill 50, which is a modification to the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003. According to the new law, starting on Jan. 1, 2005, consumers will pay a $6 to $10 recycling fee when purchasing a video-display device, such as a television with cathode-ray tubes or a computer monitor with a liquid crystal display, that has been designated as hazardous waste by the state. California will use the fees, which depend on the size of the product's video screen, to reimburse collectors and recyclers. When the law originally passed, the fee start-up date was set for July 1, 2004.