I have a confession to make. I jumped on the cell phone band wagon pretty early in the game. In 1999, we had just begun our little family and were living in Estes Park, Colorado. Trips down the canyon to Fort Collins for "supplies" were fairly common, and it put everyone more at ease for the new mother/lone driver to have a cell phone in the car. Then, once we did the math, we realized we could cancel our long distance plan and just use the cell phone to call far away friends and loved ones instead.
However, because I seem to be genetically programmed to not like shopping and not be tempted by new technology and gadgets, I have only owned three phones since then. Up until last fall, I was still happily using my old flip phone, not as a camera or a mini computer, but as just a phone. And then I washed it. In the washing machine. This particular phone had already survived being dunked in a glass of water repeatedly by a toddler (someone else's) and falling in the toilet (freshly cleaned, thankfully), so I somewhat confidently took it apart and set it in rice, expecting it to dry out and come back to life. No luck.
As I browsed Verizon's website for my new phone, I just felt sick to my stomach and could not commit to a purchase. I knew from start to finish the damage a cell phone causes to the environment. The components of a cell phone read like a Top Ten list of major pollutants: lead, nickel, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and plastic treated with brominated flame retardants. From mining to manufacturing to usage to disposal these devices poison people and places at every stage. The numbers are staggering. There are 3.5 billion phones in use world wide. The average user upgrades every 18 months (U.S. users are closing in on once a year). Only 20% of users get a new phone because their old one isn't working. Tossed cell phones account for 65,000 tons of electronic waste annually. And yet, my life right now is structured in a way that it would be difficult to go completely without one.
Frustrated, I finally called Verizon to talk to a sales representative about my dilemma. It turns out they, and all other major carriers, offer Certified Pre-Owned phones. It takes a little digging to find them on their websites. Verizon's is listed under "Deals", assuming your motivation is to just save money. And although I'd love to get to a point where a cell phone is not a necessity in my life, buying a used phone, with the same kind of warranty granted a new one felt like a workable solution for now.
Other solutions to deal with the cell phone crisis:
-treat your phone carefully so it will last, keeping it in a case and not using it precariously where it might fall (no more talking to my sister and cleaning the toilet simultaneously for me!)
-only upgrade because your phone stopped working, not just to get the newest feature or cool kid toy
-recycle your old phone, but be careful it isn't just getting shipped to a third world country, look for a non-profit organization that actually uses them