Your discarded cell phone could be poisoning people and water

A man looks at his email on a Blackberry.

This Earth Day, we take a look at the risks that go along with recycling your personal electronics. It's something that comes up every time you buy, for instance, a new phone. You can shove the old one in a drawer, which takes up space. You can also choose to simply throw it in the garbage and let it be taken to a landfill. Hopefully, you'll avoid that option because you know that harmful chemicals could escape a broken phone and find their way to the water table.

There are other options but you have to be careful. It's not uncommon to see drop boxes that are marked as recycling stations for used electronics.

But according to our guest, Sarah Westervelt of Basel Action Network, many of the phones dropped in those boxes are sold off to unethical companies in the developing world. There, the phones are stripped down for the precious metals and other ingredients that are inside. This is done without much safety precaution for the workers (often children). The leftover chemicals from this process are then often just dumped into whatever body of water is nearby.

Westervelt says to look for the "E-Stewards" signage on the facility to see if the recycling organization is operating in an ethical capacity. You can also go to e-stewards.org for assistance.

Also in this program, the New York Public Library needs your help figuring out what some very old menus say. Check them out here and get to work!

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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