Managing Hazardous Waste

We strengthen regulations and streamline waste management

Cell Phone Recycling

How is California doing with Recycling Cell Phones?

Cell phones have become an essential technological tool for most Americans. Cell phones contain toxic metals (such as lead and cadmium) that may create environmental harm when they disposed of improperly. Due to the potential presence of toxic metals, 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 cell phones from consumers for recycling. In order to determine how effective the program is, DTSC publishes the estimated recycling rate on this page each year.

Estimated Recycling Rate for the Year 2018

Phones returned for recycling (reported):    0.83 million          
Phones sold in California (est.):                   8.21 million
Estimated recycling rate in California:         10 percent

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 0.83 million units in 2018. DTSC obtained an estimate of the number of cell phones sold in California in 2018 from manufacturers’ sales data and their estimated market share value.

There are limitations to the accuracy of the estimated recycling rate. 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 these reported values.

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more publicity about the Take-Back programs will help motivate the public to find and properly recycle any discarded/outdated cell phones they may have.

For More Information

The following fact sheet has more information on cell phone recycling:
AB 2901: California’s Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004

The following webpage has information on rechargeable batteries recycling:
How is California Doing with Recycling Rechargeable Batteries?