Photograph Courtesy of MCUM

To aid in its mission to help Monroe County kids, the Monroe County United Ministries recycles donated cell phones. The agency sells the phones to a company that recycles them.

The staff at the Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) not only help the local community, they are also environmentally conscious.

MCUM is a non-profit organization that provides social services for primarily low-income Monroe County residents. Since 2005, the agency has had a fund-raising drive through which citizens give them old cell phones, and MCUM raises money by recycling them.

"It's really a common thing to have cell phones sitting around (people's) houses," says Rebecca Stanze, MCUM development coordinator. "So this industry has sprung up where nonprofit organizations can collect those phones and then turn them around and give them to recycling and refurbishing organizations, and then the nonprofit gets paid per phone."

MCUM gets paid anywhere between 50 cents to $30 per phone. And the money raised by this and other fundraisers goes to support MCUM programs, including year-round child care and summer camps for young children. MCUM also provides emergency help, including food, clothing, and hygiene and cleaning supplies, as well as preventative services.

MCUM helped 1,006 families in 2007 and served 64,755 meals, Stanze says. MCUM partners with the Opportunity House and other agencies to provide vital services for those in need.


According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, the average life of a cell phone is 18 months. Between 100-150 million cell phones are taken out of service each year, and fewer than 20 percent of those are recycled.

The amount of waste that this creates, in addition to other electronics, is enormous.

Plug-In To eCycling, "a partnership between the EPA and 24 electronic manufacturers and retailers to offer consumers more opportunities to donate or recycle their used electronics," recycled more than 47 million pounds of electronics, according to the 2007 Activities Report. "Conservatively, the greenhouse gas savings from recycling these electronics is equivalent to removing nearly 32,000 cars off U.S. roads each year."

Shelter Alliance, the company that MCUM works with on the cell phone fundraiser, is "one of the companies that is recognized for its environmentally responsible approach to recycling cell phones," says Stanze.

Some don't recycle phones responsibly, she adds. "People don't realize, they think they're recycling their phone when they give it to someone or even a company, maybe giving to a nonprofit that's giving it to a company, but there are a lot of ways in which it can be recycled irresponsibly or handled poorly."

This is Stanze's main concern. "You can end up doing more harm then good," she says. "It's important when your think of recycling cell phones or any other electronic that we need to start recycling and think about where the end point is."

She mentions a frightening National Geographic article "High Tech Trash."

"Most of the stuff that is handled irresponsibly is shipped off to Third World Countries," she says, where individuals burn scraps from the waste that piles up and get paid for their efforts. Unfortunately the material that they handle is toxic, but the people there believe "that it is better to make a buck to feed their family," says Stanze.

Stanze says she was frightened by an image in National Geographic of a man using "a bowl to melt down metals. "It's the only bowl he's got, so this is the bowl that's going to be cooking his family's dinner in that evening."

"It's just appalling that we would be buying a new cell phone every week, and the old one has to go somewhere, and unfortunately this is where some of them are going," she says.

Kathleen Huff can be reached at


For more information

High Tech Trash


Shelter Alliance

Opportunity House