[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
The frequent cell phone upgrades that come with most phone plans keep us up-to-date with cell phone technology and, at their best, replace our cell phones before they break. But these easy upgrades also produce a lot of electronic waste when we throw away, or sometimes even when we think we’re recycling, our old cell phones. Because of the precious metals it contains (copper, lead, nickel, etc.), this electronic waste often ends up in the hands of the poorest of the poor, those who can make a little money by extracting the metals and selling them. The process of such amateur extraction is a dangerous one that damages the health of impoverished people and pollutes their environments.
Fortunately, there are avenues by which old cell phones can be responsibly disposed and not only legitimately recycled, but recycled to raise money for a cause or ministry. Pastor Tri Robinson, in his book Saving God’s Green Earth, explains how his congregation of Boise Vineyard Church collected cell phones from neighbors in the church’s community and sent them to be recycled. The money they raised through this recycling push funded their work to help the Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Plus, as Robinson recounts in his book, there was this added benefit:
“People weren’t simply handing over their phones—they had questions, such as why would a church care about the environment and such. It gave our members opportunities to share the reality of their faith, explaining that it wasn’t simply something they believed but something they lived.”
Here’s how your church can get involved in recycling those old cell phones for good, too:
Alert your community to your recycling intentions, and offer neighbors a simple way to donate their old phones to the project.
- Choose your audience – Involve the neighborhoods immediately surrounding your church, equip church members to do collections in their own neighborhoods, or—if your town is small enough—choose to collect phones from your entire community.
- Details, details – Prepare a brief explanation of the project’s genesis and goals. Let people know that you are a church community seeking to do two good things at once—recycle potentially harmful substances wisely and contribute funds to people in need—and be sure to clarify where the funds will go in the end. Explain when the cell phones will be collected and how.
- Make it easy – Boise Vineyard Church members hung paper bags containing all of the above information, and capable of holding a cell phone, on neighborhood door handles. They then returned at the time they had designated to collect any donated cell phones, making the process convenient for neighbors. Your church may want to set up a similar information and collection process, or you may find that setting up a collection center and event at your church will attract more donors. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that community members know when and where they can donate their phones.
“The response didn’t surprise me,” writes Robinson in Saving God’s Green Earth. “Americans are so generous when disaster
strikes, especially when it hits their own people.” Prepare to be pleased by the generosity of your community when you collect their donations.
- Gather it in – Send volunteers out to collect cell phones from neighbors’ homes or set up your collection site—with plenty of good signs and directions—to make it easy for neighbors to drop off their phones.
- Say thank you – Leave a note of thanks with the neighbors who have donated, referring them once again to the project or ministry that will ultimately benefit from their generosity. If you are hosting a collection event, thank donors with some refreshments or fun activities.
Find a reliable electronic waste recycler that will provide funds for your cause. Then, through prayer and discernment, donate those funds to the need God has placed on your congregation’s consciousness.
- Where to send them – Recellular.com refurbishes, reuses, and recycles old cell phones, providing some to charities in need of them and paying companies and organizations—like your church—for cell phones collected. Eco-Cell.org accepts all cell phones and cell phone accessories, recycles them in environmentally sound ways, and sends funding your way in the process.
- What to support – Unfortunately, there are always needs that could benefit from your church’s generosity. If your church is not currently contributing to a humanitarian or environmental cause, consider contributing to assisting the people affected by the flooding in Pakistan, the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill, or the rebuilding of Haiti after the earthquake. Christian organizations that take the environment into consideration as they do development and relief work around the world include Plant With Purpose, Care of Creation, Lifewater International, and ECHO.
A CBS News report on “The Electronic Wasteland”