As of 2011, the average American upgrades their cell phone about every two years, whereas folks in Finland, Brazil, and India upgrade at an average of every 6-8 years. Where do the batteries from all of these unwanted phones go? According to the EPA, only 8% of cell phones were recycled in 2009, which means that a lot of them are probably sitting around collecting dust or have made their way to the landfill. I am guessing that this probably means that many of the batteries weren't recycled either.
Cell phone batteries are typically one of four types: Lithium Polymer (Li-Poly), Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), or Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). NiCd is the most toxic to the environment due to its cadmium content and should never reach the landfill, but all of them contain valuable materials that can be recycled and reused. This is true not only for the cell phone battery, but for other components as well. Cell phones contain many other materials that can be costly or are of limited supply such as gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, iron, and platinum. In 2009, 62 percent of recycled cell phones were turned into sources of material recovery and the remaining 38 percent were reused or refurbished.
Many cell phone carriers also have trade-in or donation programs that can benefit the customer or a social service such as AT&T’s Trade-In-Program, Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine program, Sprint Nextel’s Project Connect, and T-Mobile USA’s Handset Recycling Program. Each of these carriers make it easy to recycle… either drop off your old phone at a service provider location or ship it by going to a provider’s website and printing out a free ship label for your region (T-Mobile has the envelopes at store locations). Any of these organizations will take any make or model of cell phone. You can also try to be aware of organization sponsored cell-phone recycling drives and drop-off locations because many organizations now participate in the recycling effort.