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Start-Up Pays You To Recycle Old Mobile Phones

When the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block LP moved its offices last year, it found that many employees disposed of old cell phones by sticking them in a drawer. Wanting to be environmentally responsible, the firm decided to recycle the phones rather than just throw them out. It turned to CorporateRenew.com, a start-up created by two Yale University undergrads that pays businesses for old cell phones and PDAs and resells them on the secondary market.

"Reusing is the highest form of recycling, and for every device that comes through our door, we try to find a new home for it," says Joe Pappalardo, director of business development for CorporateRenew.com. He works with founders Rich Littlehale and Bob Casey at the new company, based in New Haven, Connecticut and open for one year now. The founders also operate a companion site called YouRenew.com, where individuals can sell consumer electronics, including MP3 players, game consoles, digital cameras and external disk drives.

The start-up resells the items on the secondary market, ideally at a profit, through such e-commerce channels as Amazon.com or eBay. Pappalardo says ninety-nine percent of the products it buys are resold, and the rest are recycled through a certified recycling partner.

At either site, the visitor enters information for the product he or she wants to unload, such as the make and model of the device and its condition, then they are told what the company will pay. For instance, the two-year old Dell Inspiron notebook on which this story was written is worth all of $36. This reporter's Palm Centro smartphone fetches just $28. But an Apple iPhone 3GS, introduced in June 2009, is worth as much as $318 if it's in perfect condition. Shipping is free, and once YouRenew/CorporateRenew checks the condition of the product, it mails a check to the customer.

CorporateRenew is tapping into a market with the potential for high growth: according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled in the United States. Those that aren't stashed in desk drawers end up in landfills with other e-waste such as computers, TV sets and servers.  Hazardous substances in these products, including lead and cadmium, can pollute groundwater.

CorporateRenew serves businesses of all sizes, from small accounting firms to Fortune 500 companies, says Pappalardo. "Working with large corporations, the benefits of being environmentally responsible and getting some money back are great. It's really a no-brainer."

At present, CorporateRenew only buys back cell phones from businesses, though it is about to begin buying laptops. For desktop computers, servers, routers and other enterprise networking equipment, organizations have to engage a larger recycler. CorporateRenew and YouRenew link to Earth911.org, a nonprofit recycling resource. Companies that recycle corporate computing devices and mobile phones should ensure that memory and disks are completely wiped before the devices leave the premises. Otherwise, they risk exposing potentially sensitive information when the devices are resold.

Organizations have several options for recycling or re-purposing electronic equipment. Small and medium businesses can drop off unused equipment at Staples and Best Buy. For larger enterprises with hundreds of computers or servers to dispose of responsibly, hardware manufacturers have recycling or repurchase programs. HP, for instance, offers Asset Recovery Services to buy unwanted equipment, even if it's not an HP brand. The EPA posts a list of recycling and reuse programs on its Web site.