Wireless phone recycler gives to charity

By Andrea Leptinsky, Staff Reporter, Detroit Auto Scene Newspaper

ROYAL OAK - Nearly 200 million people use cell phones in the U.S. , a number that makes the cellular communication industry see dollar signs. But with numerous releases of increasingly high-tech cell phones each year, millions of those people are leaving their out-of-date mobile units in the dust.

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Dwight Zahringer and his partner Pete Grabowski have set out to eliminate the growing trash pile of unused cell phones and other electronics. Their non-profit organization, Royal Oak-based Recycling for Charities (RCF), collects old cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and pagers to be refurbished or turned in for money that's donated to local and national charities.

"Really what we are is a vehicle," Zahringer said. "If you'd like to support the American Kidney Fund or the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, then you can donate your items and say I really want my gift to benefit this charity. We're that vehicle to help recycling, just because there's such a need."

The organization was formed in March in the cultural hub of downtown Royal Oak with the hope of accomplishing two things: to put old phones to good use or to dispose of them properly, and to make money for local and national charities.

Its Web site was launched a few weeks ago, and since then, it has received hundreds of phones through online donations. After the donations were received, Zahringer said he handed them over to Wireless Source in Bloomfield Hills.

"They figure out what they are worth," Zahringer said. "If the items are not worth anything except scrap, then they'll make sure they are recycled properly."

While he doesn't know what the exact return is yet, Zahringer said he could get anywhere between 50 cents to over $20.00 per phone from the company. RCF would then take 50 percent of the return for operating costs and donate the other half to the charity chosen by the phone's donor.

People interested in donating a phone can visit RCF's Web site, type in their information, print out a packing slip and then send the package on its way. In return, RCF will send back a tax donation receipt for use during tax time.

There is no cost for charities to join RCF, although they do have to go through a verification process to make sure they're legitimate, Zahringer said.

And while some phones may not bring in a return, Zahringer said the Wireless Source could use them for specific parts, or make sure that they are disposed of properly.

RCF's Web site includes a list of dangerous elements that can enter the environment when cell phones end up in landfills. Lead is used primarily in soldering circuit boards, according to the Web site. Arsenic is used in semiconductors and cadmium is used is semiconductors and chip resistors.

Each element poses a threat to the human body if not properly treated prior to disposal, Zahringer said.

"Do you think there's any harmful chemicals inside of this?" Zahringer asked. "Absolutely."

Approximately 50 charities locally and about a dozen charities nationwide have joined RCF. Locally, the United Way of Southeastern Michigan has joined RCF's effort, as well as others like the Catholic Social Services of Oakland County.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul organization has furthered its involvement with RCF by establishing 10 drop boxes around the metro Detroit area.

"St. Vincent de Paul is very excited to welcome drop boxes at all 10 of its thrift store locations to collect cell phones, pages and PDAs for Recycling for Charities," said Bat Seymour III, president, Society of St. Vincent de Paul board of trustees.

"Drop boxes present a great opportunity to team Recycling for Charities' mission with St. Vincent de Paul's mission."

Seymour said not only is the partnership good for the environment, but also for the people his charity is trying to help. "The additional revenue from this relationship will support St. Vincent de Paul's efforts to assist the poor," he said.

For information on recycling or donating wireless items visit RFC's Web site or call Contact: (248) 582-9229