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Phone-Recycling Project Helps Keep Oceans Clean

by and on April 26, 2016 6:00 AM
University Park, PA

For more than 10 years, Chris Marone has been offering extra credit to Penn State students in his basic oceanography course, The Sea Around Us, for donating old cell phones. The project not only gives students a way to reduce ocean waste, but also raises funds for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Marone’s course covers topics including tides and how they affect the ocean, ocean chemistry and geology, ocean currents and circulation, marine life and issues related to ocean science.

Our electronics and batteries have lots of heavy metals in them — chemicals like lead or nickel — that are hazardous to our environment,” said Marone, professor of geosciences and associate director of the Penn State Institute for Natural Gas Research. “When these phones and other electronics go into landfills, it is guaranteed that the chemical waste will be in the ocean within a few years. Large fish then consume and store the chemicals, which can affect entire ecosystems.”

After students turn in phones, Marone donates the phones to Relay for Life. The phones are then sent to companies like EcoPhones or Gazelle, which either recondition them for reuse or remove and refine the electrical components and chemicals into reusable raw materials.

The spring 2016 class has recycled more than 360 phones. Marone has collected thousands since he first undertook the project in 2004, raising more than $5,000 — all by donating electronics that would otherwise go to landfills.

The phone recycling project is very different than most fundraising for Relay For Life in so many ways,” said Jen Leydig, community manager for Relay for Life of Penn State. “The driving force behind the fundraiser is a Penn State professor and most fundraising is done by students. Also, this type of fundraiser involves getting rid of things that are taking up space in your house. I know I have a few cell phones that I will be throwing into this.”

Peter Spiridigliozzi was interested in donating phones because he had been involved in Relay for Life fundraising before coming to Penn State.

I was team captain for my high school’s Relay for Life team. I think if we can do something to fight cancer, we should. There’s no reason I shouldn’t donate my old phone when it’s just collecting dust. And, I get a couple of extra credit points for it,” he said.

Sarah Temple, a math education major, searched her house to find old phones to donate. She ended up donating five. “We should all do whatever we can to help fight cancer,” she said. “We should all give back.”

Since 2004, Marone said he has seen not only more phones being donated, but also higher-quality phones being turned in. This generates even more funds for Relay for Life.

I think people are becoming more aware of the dangers of heavy metals and how they affect marine life,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m able to use my class to help show students one way they can keep the ocean clean and be good citizens.”


This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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