Cell Phone Recycling

How is California doing with recycling cell phones?

Cell phones have become essential technological tools to most Americans. Most cell phones contain toxic metals (such as lead and cadmium) that may create environmental harm when disposed of. These devices must be handled as a hazardous waste and not thrown away in the municipal landfill.

To encourage the recycling of cell phones, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed The California Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004, which requires retailers to accept all cellular phones from consumers for recycling. In order to determine how effective the program is, DTSC publishes the recycling rate on this page for each year.


Recycling rate for the year 2012

Phones returned for recycling (reported)      3.0 million         =     13 percent recycling rate in California
Phones sold in California (est.)                  23.1 million


What do the numbers mean?

DTSC calculated California’s estimated cell phone recycling rate using information gathered from retailers, recyclers, and cell phone manufacturers.  Retailer and recycler take-back programs collected approximately 3.0 million units.  DTSC obtained an estimate of the number of cell phones sold in California in 2012 from manufacturers' sales data and their estimated market share value.

The reported number of cell phones returned for recycling increased in the 2012 reporting year.  However there was a substantial increase in the reported number of cell phones sold, resulting in an overall decreased recycling rate as illustrated by the following chart:

Cell Phone Recycling Rates Chart

There are limitations to the accuracy of these recycling rates. California law does not require cell phone collectors to report the number of cell phones collected for recycling in the state of California, nor does it require manufacturers to report cell phone sales data for California. Improving how the industry counts phones will increase the accuracy in the reported values.

While retailers and manufacturers of cell phones are concerned in protecting our environment, new incentives and more publicity about the Take-Back programs will help motivate the public to find and properly recycle any discarded/outdated cell phones they may have.