Turning Old Cell Phones into Jobs

Social enterprise Tech Dump wants your old cell phones

By Kevyn Burger
Thu, 2017-05-18 09:40

We cell phone owners shell out a small fortune when we purchase our devices, then use them incessantly, loading them with our texts, phone numbers and data and using them for directions, status updates and capturing images; many of us admit we even sleep with them.

But, be honest, we’re fickle. That cell phone that’s our constant electronic companion one day glitches and has to be replaced, or it’s abandoned when a better, quicker model comes along.

And then that prized possession gets unceremoniously dumped into a junk drawer.

“We know that people make emotional attachments to their devices, but in the end, it’s all stuff,” says Amanda LaGrange, the CEO of Tech Dump and Tech Discounts, who quickly adds, “But it’s stuff that can benefit someone, that can transform lives.”

With outlets in Golden Valley, Bloomington and St. Paul, Tech Dump is an e-waste recycler; its retail arm, Tech Discounts sells used and refurbished electronics.

Operating as a social enterprise, Tech Dump is staffed by people who face barriers to employment. In 2016, Tech Dump employed 76; their goal is to have 100 on staff by the end of this year.

Now Tech Dump has set an ambitious summer goal that will give it the funds to up the number of people it employs. It’s mounting an aggressive campaign to get your cell phones out of your junk drawer and into their hands to be recycled.

“We’ve set a goal of collecting one ton of cell phones. One ton!” LaGrange says. “That will fund 1,000 hours of job training.”

Cell Phone Summer kicks off on June 10th, with a party at the Tech Discounts Bloomington retail store. Tech Dump will accept cell phone donations at its three outlets all summer.

In addition, you can bring your old cell phone(s) to pop-up events at summer events around the Twin Cities. There will be collection bins at Twin Cities Pride, the St. Louis Park Parktacular, Junket Tossed & Found, the Mill City and Northeast Farmers Markets, The Bakken Museum, and all Arc Value Village stores. The campaign concludes with a collection bin and display in the Eco Experience Building at the Minnesota State Fair.

“We want any cell phone—an old flip phone, a device with a broken screen. You think it might be trash, but it can be recycled,” LaGrange says. “A cell phone should never be put in the trash. Devices are manufactured so they don't catch on fire, so materials inside are toxic to put in a landfill where they could come into contact with ground water.”

In 2014, the number of mobile devices on the planet exceeded the number of people who inhabit it, but according to the EPA, only eleven percent of eligible mobile devices are recycled each year.

LaGrange assures donors that the devices they give to Tech Dump will be efficiently and safely handled, with a guarantee that all data on the cell phones will be destroyed.

“We physically shred the old flip phones. On cell phones, we reclaim the gold, silver, copper and earth elements. They’re electronically wiped; we take this part of the process very seriously. We are third party certified and our procedures are audited.” .

Beyond creating jobs and promoting a safer environment, Tech Dump and Tech Discounts are part of a growing approach that consumers gravitate to.

“This has become a really exciting time for the social enterprise model,” LaGrange enthused. “No matter what you believe, people know that government is not in a position to solve all of our problems. We say, let’s use business.”