The Phone Companies Have us by the Cords

You think the numbers being discussed about the Federal budget are staggering?  Do a little research on cell phone waste. What follows came to me starting at a slow boil when we became eligible for phone upgrades. I often take a pass on this prize, but my phone was broken so I had no choice. At the end of the sales agony we were offered a 3 part deal of phone accessories that if bundled together would only cost 90 (more) dollars. It dawned on me that I’d bought these things individually before at considerably less. That they don’t tell you. And I wasn’t at a rolling boil yet.

But I get ahead of myself, as I often do. You’ve read me rant about the old ole days  when people left the house phones stayed home with the dog. This is a continuation of that rant.

Unlike buying a car, one of the easiest tasks in phone buying is choosing a color–black, silver, gold. white. Since I’d spent the last two years looking for my black phone on our black marble counters, black was out. My wife got gold. I didn’t like the white, so that was easy. Silver it was. It was all down hill from there.

First of all being eligible for a new phone does not equate to getting a new phone for free, which is often the case in other countries where the the money is made on usage plans. The privilege of getting a new phone cost a $32 up charge, even if you aren’t “movin’ on up.” You get two weeks to change your mind, come back and choose another phone. That’s adds a $35.00 re-stocking fee. I said, “We tend to be indecisive. If we camp out here for three or four days and change our minds never getting more than 4 or 5 feet from the storage room, is there still a fee to put it back?”


It was the next “no” answer that set me off. The phone doesn’t come with a car charger. Would my i-Phone 7 charger fit my i-phone 8? Silly boy. Of course not. It does come with a wall charger that looks, acts, weighs exactly like the one I have. It is its twin it just doesn’t fit the new phone. You can “make” it fit if you get angry enough, but not only will the phone not work but it costs about $350 to fix that mad-scientist impulse that caused you to be so stupid.

“I tend to use my phone to make calls. I know that is foreign concept. Put  sending text messages, reading my emails (actually hacking them down to manageable size for later reading), and taking an occasional picture. that’s what I do with a phone. Did I really need an 8?

“No, sir, not really but….. The 8 has a much faster processor and a much better camera. In fact if you went for 8S……

I said, “Stop it!”

That it only cost an additional five dollars a month and my wife freely admits she likes having a husband with a phone everyone else has, not last year’s model….and so it ended until something nagging at me drove me to the computer. What happens to the old car chargers, the wall cords, the old phones etc? Well it seems there there is a question before that. How much waste do they actually create? Answer is? 9.4 million lb of it–here in the good ole US of A alone. About a 1/3 of that we ship to 3rd world countries for pennies on the dollar and let them train their architectural landscape interns to figuring out what to do with all that eco-destroying crap.

Then there is this issue of heavy and rare metals inside the the phone. It is hard to wrap one’s head around a heavy metal issue in something that is so light it is easy to forget you are even carrying it. Jog your memory with this.

Lets take note of everyone’s favorite metal–gold. Here’s a little nugget for you. Per one million phones we throw away, $60 million of gold and silver a year get thrown away with it.

Mr President. Listen up! Forget coal mining. There’s gold in there thar phones!

Cooper too. You know those wires that pesky kids are always stealing from construction sites and selling on the street? We toss 353 lbs of it per million phones.

Then too there are the spiral rubber cords on the phone car chargers. Strung together, I imagine they could make a bungee cord usable with room to spare from the top of Mt. Everest. Yet there they lay in this dump and that, in this country and that.

According to research done by Atlantic Magazine, China controls 95-97% of the earth’s rare metals. It is a widely accepted figure. Given what is not recycled and given what others don’t have, the monopoly grows stronger annually. Nor should it surprise you that rare metals are critical to other things besides cell phones. Small, insignificant stuff. Things that do with daily life and things that do with national security like missiles and space stations and so on.

I could go on….for a long time. but the point is this: The cell phone industry has taken the old auto industry bug-a-boo of “planned obsolescence” and and ratcheted it up to unbelievable proportions. Reminders. The statistics above are not “to date.” They are annual! Ergo 9.4 million pounds a year–and you complain about budget numbers!

Talk about corporate irresponsibility in the name of greed. The EPA, from where all these stats come, says we recycle a whopping 12.5% of cell phone waste. You do the math on what is left. Damn!


If you like this sort of sarcastic nastiness you can find it most Sundays in this space, http://www.””

Similar ire can be found at where you will find my first book, “Mirth, Wind, and Ire.”

Coming in a few weeks will be its sequel, “More Mirth, Wind, and Ire” and in the works, and autobiography, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Notes from Brooklyn.”

Comments and questions are always welcome.


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