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I am searching for the most long-lasting, recyclable and earth-friendly cellphone I can find. Does such a thing exist?

When you realize that the average cellphone ownership period is about 18 months, you begin to understand that this tiny piece of pocket tech is poised to become a major waste and pollution problem. Presumably, the gadgets are replaced as owners find sexier new models, change phone plans or accidentally leave their trinkets on the trunk of the car and drive away. People may regret the latter, but as a general rule they don’t think twice about dumping their castoffs in the trash can. (And rumour has it that disposable phones, horror of horrors, will be available soon.)

Experts expect 60 million phones to enter the waste stream by 2005. (Thirteen and a half million Canadians, or nearly half of us, are users.) And that is a problem, because the phones are full of persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals, or PBTs, which can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and do all sorts of exciting damage to organs, nerves and cells.

They also contain lead, cadmium, nickel and brominated fire retardants. Once pulverized in landfill, these can contaminate air and groundwater, causing cancer, brain tumours and endocrine disruption.

Europe and Japan are moving ahead rapidly to stem the toxic tide by establishing stricter manufacturing standards. There, all phone models must be compatible with all service providers, and phone companies must maintain reclaim-and-recycle programs.

Canada, though, is doing little in this regard. So, short of flying overseas to purchase a cell – a move that would vastly outweigh the eco benefits of a green phone – we’re out of luck on the purchasing end. Still, we can limit the enviro impact of our chat devices.

Commit to owning your phone for as long as possible. When the time comes to get rid of it, pass it along right away don’t let it languish in a drawer and become completely obsolete. A wide variety of reuse programs includes industry recycling and refurbishing by charitable organizations that send them to developing countries or local women’s shelters so victims of domestic violence can have emergency phone minutes. (Many cellphones can be used to dial 911 even when they’re no longer hooked up to any service provider – that is, of course, if the battery is still charged.)

Drop-off recycling boxes can be found at the Daily Bread Food Bank, 50-odd community centres and Purolator and Bell outlets. As well, Pitch-In Canada, a non-profit org, has a cellphone collection program that pays $1 a pop to groups engaged in fundraising drives.

You can also help turn up the heat on the industry by telling them you’d like a product free of lead and brominated fire retardant. While you’re at it, lean on the government to pass stricter regs for manufacturers.

For the rest of you folks who are still holding out against the hand-held rudeness machine, I say: hang tough. You give hope to the fallen.

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