Saving the planet one cellphone at a time
BuyMyTronics finds a profit in recyclingBy Eric Peterson
There is nearly one active cell phone for each of the 308 million people in the U.S. and another 500 million or so retired phones awaiting disposal in shoeboxes, kitchen drawers, and other hiding places.
The energy savings in recycling all these phones is the equivalent of power for 150,000 homes for a full year, not to mention all of the arsenic, mercury, and lead kept out of the landfill. However, only about 10 percent of cell phones are currently recycled nationwide.
Fighting this plague of forced obsolescence, BuyMyTronics.com CEO Brett Mosley has helped steer some 100,000 handsets from the trash since he founded the company in 2007. And he pays for used and broken phones, as well as used and broken laptops, MP3 players, and other consumer gadgets. At BuyMyTronics.com world HQ in Denver, the basement space is dotted with shelf after shelf and box after box of incoming and outgoing units, some of them in need of repair from the company's nine-person staff. After any repairs and a data-wipe, the company liquidates half of the stock to wholesalers and other half via eBay on a case-by-case basis. “Our system is not cookie cutter, because no company is,” says Mosley.
BuyMyTronics.com has recently shifted its consumer-centric strategy towards enterprises. “It helps soften upgrade costs,” says Mosley. Beyond guaranteeing environmentally safe recycling and data security, BuyMyTronics.com offers a streamlined system for recycling retired phones in boxes at corporate locations (pre-addressed pack-and-ship recycling boxes) as well as a new revenue stream. “Most companies do not see the end of a life cycle of a handset as a potential profit center, but a liability,” says Mosley. “You can be green and earn green.”
BuyMyTronics.com has doubled its revenues every year of its existence, says Mosley, pegging the company as “on track to do a few million” in 2010 without the benefit of any outside financing.
A BuyMyTronics.com client since mid-2010, N.H.-based American Medical Response has some 10,000 cell phones in the field and retires about 50 of them a month, says Mary Gordon, IT and wireless coordinator. Citing security needs as a top priority, Gordon labels the service as “exceptional,” noting that revenue from recycling cell phones helps her determine when to upgrade and when to wait. “The website is phenomenal,” says Gordon. “It will actually calculate what we will get for the phone. That's very meaningful.”
Because desktop computers are heavier and bulkier than cell phones, it's rarely profitable to recycle them, and less so if it involves shipping them to a centralized facility a la the BuyMyTronics.com model. According to Mosley, it's best to look for a local recycler, and do some due diligence.
Mosley says there are two critical questions to ask of any electronics recycler. “Ask where your stuff is going. Ask to see a waste-stream map. All of our waste ends up in First World countries with higher standards than the U.S.” Also ask about their procedures concerning data security, he adds. “There are Chinese mafias dedicated just to stealing people's data.”
About Eric Peterson
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News.