Ron LeMay, formerly of Sprint, and David Edmonson, of Radioshack, are the two founders of eRecyclingCorps, which was announced today at CTIA. It's essentially a project that will partner with wireless carriers to enable the exchange and recycling of cell phones—and as cell phones (especially their Li-ion batteries) are highly toxic when thrown away, it's a hell of a green effort as well.
Sprint, unsurprisingly, has been named as the first official partner, and their deal shows how this partnership could work. Customers return phones to several thousand of Sprint's own stores (and dealer-owned stores) for credit towards a new phone. Sprint will then send those phones to eRecyclingCorps, which, depending on the condition of the phone, will either refurbish it for sale as a used item, or recycle it properly. Correction: an earlier version of this story named Radioshack and Best Buy as trade-in locations—that's inaccurate.
It's pretty much a win across the board: customers get money for something they'd otherwise have tossed, Sprint gets to give out credit which will entice customers into sticking with them, eRecyclingCorps gets cheap used phones to sell to developing countries, developing countries get access to cheap cellphones, and used cellphones don't end up in landfills. Oh, and everybody makes money: Edmonson estimates that 80 to 85% of used cell phones can be refurbished and re-sold, and that they'll clear about a 35% profit margin from refurbishing and recycling.
The effort isn't just a cute trick—a huge recycling project is desperately needed. Only about 10% of the 275 million U.S. wireless users actually recycle their old phones, largely because it's both confusing and a pain to dispose of them properly. The eRecyclingCorps team will try to use Sprint as a test case to appeal to the other American carriers, and if all four of the major carriers buy into it, that 10% number should shoot way up, which is just better for everyone.