Does Sprint's Phone Buyback Program Satisfy Our Need for Greed?

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Sprint Nextel today announced plans to expand its "Buyback" program for wireless devices. Company CEO Dan Hesse, testifying at a green telecom hearing on Capitol Hill, announced the revised plan, which now offers account credit to Sprint customers who turn in up to three "eligible" wireless handsets, regardless of manufacturer or carrier.

What's interesting about Sprint's offer is that it takes into account consumers' somewhat less-than-altruistic instincts.

Does Sprint's Phone Buyback Program Satisfy Our Need for Greed?
Graphic: Diego Aguirre
The company's news release cites a recent ABI Research Report that surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers about cell phone recycling. Only 38 percent of those surveyed said they had recycled outdated mobile handsets. And here's the shocker: 98 percent of those who hadn't recycled a cell phone would do so only so for some sort of compensation, be it cash, store credit, or maybe even a tax deduction.

Here's Your Incentive

Sprint customers can take their old handsets to one of the carrier's 1000-plus participating retail stores in the United States. More than 900 wireless devices currently qualify for instant credit from Sprint, with rewards ranging from $5 to $300 depending on the make and model of the phone. A BlackBerry 9700 Bold, for instance, currently has a trade in value of $161.05, whereas an LG VX9000 Env2 is worth a mere $35.59.

"The Buyback program is another step to help us reach our ambitious goal to recover and recycle the equivalent of 90 percent of the handsets we sell by 2017," said Hesse in a statement.

Unique Plan

Among the four major U.S. wireless carriers, Sprint is the only one to compensate its customers for old phones. AT&T accepts unwanted handsets and uses the proceeds to help fund Cell Phones for Soldiers, a program that buys prepaid phone cards for U.S. military members on active duty. T-Mobile recycles phones dropped off at its retail stores--but don't expect a prize. And Verizon Wireless collects old handsets for its Hopeline program, which funds and provides free phones to domestic violence shelters.

My PC World colleague Ian Paul suggests other ways to recycle e-waste too.

Will Sprint's expanded Buyback plan spur more consumers to recycle their old handsets? Let's hope so. According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of humans on the planet now use a cell phone--a staggering statistic. With the rapid rate of technological obsolescence, we're looking at mountains of e-waste that will only grow taller without effective recycling plans. Of course, phone take-back programs will have to expand globally too, and, as UN officials point out, that's a challenge that needs our immediate attention.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at

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