The Life Cycle
of a Cell Phone
ou have one, your parents have one, your
friends each have one—owning a cell phone
has become as common as having a tradi-
±Keeping your phone longer. Choose
your cell phone service provider carefully.
Pick a phone with features you need and a
The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone
The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone
M at e r ial s
4 6 Packaging &
Cell phone parts and the finished products
need packaging and transportation to get from
one place to another. Transportation by plane,
truck, or rail all require the use of fossil fuels
for energy, which can contribute to global
While packaging protects products from dam-
Donating or recycling cell phones when you no
longer need or want them extends their useful
lives, and prevents them from ending up in the
trash where they can potentially cause environ-
Many organizations—including recyclers, chari-
ties, and electronics manufacturers—accept
E x t r a ctio n
tional land-line in your home. More than 156 mil- style you like so you will keep it longer. working cell phones and offer them to schools,
age, identifies contents, and provides informa-
lion Americans now use cell phones—including community organizations, and individuals in
tion, excessive or decorative packaging can be
about 20 percent of American teens! In a way, ±Charging your battery correctly. need. Reuse gives people, who could not oth-
cell phones have become a necessity of everyday Increase the life span of your phone and erwise afford them, free or reduced cost
life—we use them to call home when we’re late, battery by following the manufacturer’s direc- access to new phones and their accessories.
natural resources, In 1985, about 340,000 Plus, it extends the useful lifetime of a phone.
M at e r ial s
make plans with friends, or get directions when tions for charging the battery. such as paper people used cell phones
we’re lost. But have you ever thought about how (from trees), plas- in the United States; in
cell phones are made and what happens to them ±Reusing or recycling your phone. tic (from crude oil 2003, more than 140
P r o c e ss i n g
when you don’t need them anymore? Find ways to reuse or recycle your phone and in the earth), alu- million people used Many cell phone manufacturers and
accessories when you’re finished with them. minum (from ore), or cell phones. service providers offer a “take-back” pro-
Like any product, making a cell phone and its Many companies recycle or reuse cell other materials, all of
parts uses natural resources and energy, which phones—visit the “Resources” section of gram. Under this system, manufacturers
which use energy to produce
can potentially impact the air, land, and water. this poster for a list of suggestions. and can result in waste. Some packaging, how- accept used cell phones and accessories
Understanding the life cycle of a product can ever, can be made from recycled materials. and either recycle, re-manufacture, or
Today, more than
help you make environmental choices about Follow the life-cycle diagram to learn more dispose of them using systems designed
the products you use, and how you dispose of about cell phones, their parts, and their 1.2 billion cell phones to handle the specific types of waste cell
them. You can help minimize your environ- are in use worldwide.
potential impact on the environment... phones produce. Contact your
mental impact of using a cell phone by: manufacturer by using the
Unlike other countries, cell phone companies information that came with your
in the United States sell their own phones, phone or via the Internet.
which are usually not interchangeable from
company to company. Even though regulations
now allow consumers to transfer their phone
Materials Extraction Materials Processing
number to a new phone company, most com- Recycle
panies have unique technologies in their Electronics recyclers are springing up every-
A cell phone is made up of many materials. Most raw materials must be processed before where! Today, many stores, manufacturers, and
phones that only work in
In general, the handset consists of 40 percent manufacturers can use them to make prod- recycling centers accept cell phones for recy-
their own networks.
metals, 40 percent plastics, and 20 percent ucts. For example, in cell phones: cling. While some electronics recyclers only
This means that Cell phones are only
ceramics and trace materials. accept large shipments, communities, schools,
switching cell used for an average of
—Crude oil is combined with natural gas and or groups can work together to collect used cell
phone companies 18 months before being
± The circuit board (also called a printed chemicals in a processing plant to make phones for shipment to electronics recyclers.
can mean having replaced—even though
wiring board), located in the handset, is the plastic;
they can function for
M a n u f a ctu r i n g
to purchase a new
“brain” of the cell phone because it controls —Copper is mined, ground, heated, and treated Some rechargeable batteries can also be recy-
phone. One way to much, much longer.
all of its functions. with chemicals and electricity to isolate the cled, as several retail stores and some commu-
E n d - o f - Li f e
extend the useful life
pure metal used to make circuit boards and nities have started collecting them. When
of your phone and prevent
—Circuit boards are made from mined, raw batteries. The resulting copper pieces are rechargeable batteries are recycled, the recov-
waste is to use the same company for continu-
materials including copper, gold, lead, nickel, shipped to a manufacturer where they are ered materials can be used to make new batter-
ing phone service. Always comparison-shop to
zinc, beryllium, tantalum, coltan, and other formed into wires and sheets. ies and stainless steel products.
be sure you get the service and phone that’s
metals. The manufacturing of these boards
right for you.
requires crude oil for plastic, and sand and Check the “Resources” section of this poster
limestone for fiberglass. Many of these for a list of organizations that will accept your
materials are known as “persistent toxins” Manufacturing You can also extend the life of your phone by
taking care of it—protecting it from damage by phone and accessories for reuse or recycling.
and can stay in the environment for long Plastics and fiberglass are used to make the You can also use the Internet or phone book to
storing it in a case, avoiding dropping it, and
periods of time, even after disposal. basic shape of the circuit board, which is search for local contacts that recycle and refur-
keeping it out of extreme heat and cold and
then coated with gold plating. The board is away from water and other liquids. bish cell phones.
± The liquid crystal display (LCD) is a also composed of several electronic compo-
low-power, flat-panel display on the nents, connected with circuits and Disposal
front of your phone that shows wires (primarily made of copper) By 2005, the rate at which cell phones are dis-
information and images. It that are soldered to the board and The use of rechargeable carded is predicted to exceed 125 million
becomes opaque (hard to Approximately 20 percent batteries in cell phones reduces the phones each year, resulting in more than
secured with protective glues
see through) when electric of American teens (more amount of waste and toxicity that dis- 65,000 tons of waste! Cell phones that are
current passes through it. girls than boys) own a cell posable batteries create. Be sure to fol- thrown in the trash end up in landfills (buried in
The contrast between the phone. By the end of 2005, LCDs are manufactured by low the manufacturer’s instructions for the ground) or incinerators (burned). Because
opaque and transparent nearly two-thirds of all U.S. sandwiching liquid crystal charging your batteries so you can cell phones contain metals, plastics, chemi-
(see-through) areas forms teens will be wireless! between layers of glass or plastic. cals, and other potentially hazardous sub-
extend their lives as long as possible.
visible characters. stances, you should always recycle, donate, or
U se f u l
Batteries consist of two separate parts, trade in your old cell phone. It’s free and easy.
—Various liquid crystalline substances, either Don’t throw it away! Phones that are thrown
R e u se
called electrodes, made from two different
naturally occurring (such as mercury, a metals. A liquid substance, called electrolytes, away waste energy and result in the loss of
Li f e
potentially dangerous substance) or human- touches each electrode. When an outside valuable resources.
P a c ka g i n g &
made, are used to make LCDs. LCDs also source of electricity such as an outlet is
require the use of glass or plastic. applied, chemical reactions between the elec-
trodes and the electrolytes cause an Crank Up the Volume
T r a n s p o r t atio n
± The rechargeable battery is used to electric current to flow, giving batteries their
power the phone. A major cell phone manufacturer recently developed a way to recharge cell
“juice” or power.
phone batteries using “muscle power.” This hand-powered device provides
By 2005, cell
—Cell phones can use several types of batter- 20 minutes of talk time after just three minutes of squeezing a hand-held
phones will be discarded generator! Other new technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells and zinc-air
ies: nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH), lithium-ion
at a rate of more than and solar-powered batteries, are under development and might ultimately
(Li-Ion), nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd), or lead acid.
125 million phones each replace current battery technology.
Ni-MH and Ni-Cd batteries contain nickel,
year, resulting in more These new alternatives will conserve
cobalt, zinc, cadmium, and copper. Li-Ion bat-
than 65,000 tons natural resources and reduce waste.
teries use lithium metallic oxide and carbon- Between 1999 and 2003,
based materials, all mined from the earth. 2.5 million phones were
collected to be recycled or
The Nine Lives of a Cell Phone reused, accounting for less than
Using Less Stuff Cell phones consist of nine basic parts, ±Keypad 1 percent of the millions of
each of which has its own life cycle: ±Microphone phones retired or discarded
Cell phone companies have made great strides in “dematerialization”
±Circuit board/printed wiring board ±Speaker each year.
(using less materials) as shown by the decreasing size of today’s cell
phones. Years ago, the technology needed for a cell phone would ±Liquid crystal display (LCD) ±Plastic casing
have filled the entire floor of an office building; now everything ±Battery ±Accessories (such as adapters, headsets,
needed for a cell phone weighs only 7.7 ounces! ±Antenna carrying cases, and decorative face plates)
What Is a Life Cycle? Hand-Held Hunt Components Crossword Words from the Wise
H ave you ever considered where the products
you use every day come from, or what
±Materials Processing. Once materials are
extracted, they must be converted into a form W hether at school, home, or out running
errands, people use hand-held electronic
devices everywhere they go. Take an infor-
Consider whether the people
are kids, teenagers, or adults
and whether they are male
U se the following clues about the different parts of a cell phone to fill in the crossword.
S ome of the things that are part of your every
day life didn’t exist when your grandparents
were your age. While we might think we
First, write down your views on whether the fol-
lowing items are necessary or optional, and why.
Then interview an older relative or friend (more
happens to them when you finish using them? that can be used to make products. For exam- need these things, many people got along fine than 50 years old) to ask what they think about
mal survey to find out who uses the following or female. For example,
Do you know how each of the products you use ple, paper is made from trees, but the wood has
items in the various locations you visit during a spend a half-hour at the mall and Across without them in times past. the same things. Compare and discuss your
impacts the environment? to undergo several different processes before answers. How different or similar are they?
single day. This activity will illustrate how many identify how many people in each category are 1. The battery, the LCD, and the ______
we can use it. Compare your thoughts on the following items Why? Discuss how new products reduce waste,
people own and use cell phones and their acces- using the items listed below. Perhaps adult men board create 98 percent of a cell
Just as living things are born, get older, and die, with those of someone older than you. and how new products increase waste.
sories. You may discover interesting trends in who use belt clips more than younger women. Is that phone’s environmental impacts.
products also complete a life cycle. Each stage of a ±Manufacturing. Products are made in facto- Here’s how:
is buying and using cell phones and their acces- true? Find answers to these questions, and turn
product’s life cycle can affect the environment in ries and require a great deal of energy to create. 4. Cell phones that are thrown away
sories in your community! your results into a graph or chart.
different ways. Some products, such as cell The manufacturing process can also produce waste energy and result in the loss Item Your Thoughts Older Generation’s Thoughts
phones, have many different components, each of pollution. Many products require the use of of valuable _______.
which has its own life cycle in addition to the life packaging as well, to prevent spoilage, damage, Microwave oven
7. Each part of a cell phone must be
cycle of the composite product. The stages of a contamination, and tampering. Headset: Many people use a cell phone headset while they are driving or walking
product’s life cycle usually include: ______ and transported, which
around to keep their hands free. Most models of headsets can be reused
±Packaging & Transportation. The use of when you buy a new phone.
requires energy and often creates
±Design. A product’s design can influence each packaging can protect products from damage waste.
stage of its life cycle and in turn the environment. and provide product information. However, pack- Cell phone
9. Some facilities will recycle ______
Design affects which materials will be used to aging consumes valuable natural resources and
manufacture a product. For example, cheaper when used excessively can be wasteful. Some Belt clip: Some people buy belt clips to carry cell phones while not in use. Reusing batteries when they can no longer
or donating your belt clip when you are finished using it prevents waste. be reused.
materials are often less durable, which means packaging can be made from
the product will have a short useful life. Product recycled materials. 10. Cell phones are actually not phones Pager
design can also prevent waste in many ways. at all but sophisticated two-way
Products can be designed with modular compo- Finished products are Face plate: Decorative face plates can be trendy and fun, but you don't need them to _______.
nents that can be easily replaced so that the transported in trucks, use a cell phone. The best way to prevent waste is to simply not buy prod-
entire product does not have to be thrown planes, and trains to different ucts you don't need. If you do buy face plates, donate unwanted ones to a 11. LCDs are a low-power, flat panel
away if only one piece breaks. Items locations where they are sold. All of these charity or swap them with your friends instead of throwing them away. display made by sandwiching liquid
meant to last a long time can forms of transportation burn fossil fuels, which ______ between layers of glass Camera
avoid trendy designs so can contribute to global climate change. or plastic.
they are not Portable games Cell phones have a lot of the same parts as hand-held video game
thrown away ±Use. The way products are used can impact the and CD players: consoles and portable CD players, including speakers, circuit boards, and Down
when they go environment. For example, products that are LCDs. Old or broken consoles and players can also be reused or recycled 1. Circuits and wires on a circuit board are primarily made from ______.
out of style. only used once create more waste than prod- when no longer wanted. Compact disc
ucts that are used again and again. 2. Ni-MH and Ni-Cd batteries contain nickel, cobalt, cadmium, ______, and copper, metals that need
to be mined and processed, which creates pollution and waste.
±Materials Extraction. All products are made ±Reuse/Recycling/Disposal. Using a product
from materials found in or on the earth. “Virgin” over and over again prevents the need to create Personal Digital Assistant Advances in cell phone technology have given phones many uses, 3. Many cell phone parts can be removed from the phone and ______ or recycled.
or “raw” materials, such as trees or ore, are the product from scratch, which saves (PDA): such as storing phone numbers and searching the Internet. An emerging
directly mined or harvested from the earth, a resources and energy while also preventing pol- trend is to create one device with many uses, such as a PDA that also 5. Batteries consist of two separate parts, called _________. Video game
process that can create pollution, use large lution. Recycling or re-manufacturing products functions as a cell phone. This consolidation reduces waste by reducing
the number of individual items a person has to buy. 6. Plastics and ______ are used to make the basic shape of a circuit board.
amounts of energy, and deplete limited natural also reduces the amount of new materials that
resources. Making new products from materials have to be extracted from the earth. Throwing a 8. Crude oil is combined with natural gas and chemicals to make ______.
Recycled/Recyclable—Printed with vegetable oil based inks on 100% postconsumer, process chlorine free recycled paper.
that have already been used (recycled materials) product away means that it will end up in a land-
can reduce the amount of raw materials we fill or incinerator and will not be useful again. Radio
need to take from the earth.
Resources Math Activity 1: Cell Phone Users
The Big Debate: Sport utility vehicle
Options for Reuse & Recycling 1.
Reuse, Recycle, or Dispose?
Cell phone users in the United States increased from 340,000 people in 1985 to approximately
±National Recycling Coalition’s (NRC’s) 140 million people in 2003.
Electronic Recycling Initiative A.
Collective Good refurbishes donated cell phones and This means that on average, how many NEW cell phone users are there per year?
uses them to provide affordable wireless service ell phones are complicated products, which the end of their useful life. It can be a research B. In 2003 there were roughly ___ times more American cell phone users than in 1985. Computer
throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. makes recycling or disposing of them just as project for individuals or assigned to teams for
NRC’s Electronics Recycling Initiative promotes the
complicated. This activity examines options for discussion.
±Cellular Telecommunications & Internet recovery, reuse, and recycling of obsolete electronic
Association (CTIA) equipment.
reusing, recycling, or disposing of cell phones at 2. Approximately 20 percent of teenagers in the United States own a mobile phone.
Life Cycle Web Sites A. If 200 teenagers go to your school, about how many of them own a cell phone?
CTIA is an international association for the wireless 1. What are some of the end-of-life options for cell phones? List the options and discuss VCR
telecommunications industry. ±U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the pros and cons of each. B. What if 1,500 teenagers go to your school? Then about how many own a cell phone?
±Charitable Recycling Product Stewardship Program Pros Cons
Charitable Recycling Program encourages the dona- This program provides information on life cycle _________________________________________ ___________________________________________
Math Activity 2: On-Hold
environmental impacts of products.
tion of used cell phones.
_________________________________________ ___________________________________________ Answering machine
±Plug-in to eCycling Program ±U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
www.plugintoecycling.org Green Engineering Program _________________________________________ ___________________________________________
EPA, in partnership with several companies and www.epa.gov/opptintr/greenengineering
This program advocates designing products with their _________________________________________ ___________________________________________ 1. Did you know that, on average, cell phones are used for only 18 months before being replaced?
organizations, is helping consumers of electronic
entire life cycle in mind. Most unused phones are stored in drawers or closets before eventually being thrown away. In fact,
products tap into a network of recycling opportuni-
more than 30 million mobile phones are lying unused in American homes and businesses.
±United Nations Environment Programme, 2. Find out what cell phone manufacturers, recyclers, and local authorities have to say about end-of-life A. If a person buys a new cell phone every 18 months, how many phones will they buy
±ReCellular, Inc. Life Cycle Initiative options for cell phones.
www.unepie.org/pc/sustain/lca/lca.htm in 6 years? United States
This web site provides information about products ± Conduct Internet research or call a company that produces cell phones. Find out what it considers Environmental Protection Agency
www.wirelessrecycling.com Solid Waste and Emergency Response (5305W)
ReCellular, Inc. is a recycler and reseller of used and services over their entire life cycle. to be the useful life of a cell phone. Ask what the policy is for accepting its cell phones back for EPA530-H-04-002
wireless phones and accessories. recycling or remanufacturing. 2. Starting in 2005, it is predicted that more than 125 million cell phones—65,000 tons of waste—will
Other Information ± Find out what your teachers do with their cell phones at the end of their useful life. be discarded annually. This potentially serious environmental problem can easily be avoided by
±Rechargeable Battery Recycling
±HowStuffWorks.com, Inc. understanding how to reuse and recycle phones, prolonging their useful life.
± Contact a local recycling center and ask it if accepts old cell phones.
8. Plastic 11. Crystal
This web site provides a straightforward and easy- ± Contact a cell phone recycler to learn about its recycling practices and what products are made A. Suppose that 300 million cell phones have already been discarded by the end of 2004. Using 6. Fiberglass 10. Radios
RBRC is a nonprofit, public service organization that the cell phone discard rate above, how many TOTAL cell phones will be discarded by the end D. Recycle, donate, or trade in your old cell phone.
to-read discussion of the technical components of a from recycled cell phones.
5. Electrodes 9. Rechargeable B. 300
recycles rechargeable batteries. by 2005?
cell phone and the technology that makes it work.
± Contact your local waste management agency and ask what its policy is regarding discarded
3. Reused 7. Packaged C. 390,000 tons: (750 million/125) x 65,000 A. 40 2.
±The Wireless Foundation B.
±Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) cell phones. At the predicted 2005 rate of discarding cell phones, how many years will it take to discard 2. Zinc 4. Resources B. 6 years: (750 million / 125 million (140 million/340,000)
750 million phones?
B. Roughly 412
www.eia.org A. 425 million: 300 million + 125 million 2.
Established by CTIA, this foundation is involved with 1. Copper 1. Circuit
A trade association for the electronics industry,
(140 million - 340,000)/18
3. After conducting this research, write a summary of your findings, including who you contacted, the
several programs that use wireless communications Down Across
EIA maintains information on how member compa- 750 million discarded cell phones is equal to ___ tons of waste? A. 4 1 A. Roughly 7,758,889: 1.
to make communities safer, families more secure, Components Crossword: Math Activity 2: Math Activity 1:
nies are incorporating environmental attributes into date, and what information you obtained. Or, present the results to your classmates and discuss what
and teachers more effective.
electronic products. you view to be a good end-of-life choice for cell phones.
D. Can you name three alternatives to throwing out your cell phone?
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