Phone-recycling project reduces ocean waste and raises money for Relay for Life

Liam Jackson
April 15, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For more than 10 years, Chris Marone has been offering extra credit to students in one of his classes for donating old cell phones. The project not only gives students a way to reduce ocean waste, but it also raises funds for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Marone’s course, GEOSC 040 The Sea Around Us, is a basic oceanography course that covers topics including tides and how they affect the ocean, ocean chemistry and geology, ocean currents and circulation, marine life and other topics 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 phones this year. “We should all do whatever we can to help fight cancer. We should all give back,” she said.

Since 2004, Marone says 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. 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,” he said.

  • phones on desk

    Students turned in many phones on the last day that professor Chris Marone was accepting donations. The phone donation project is a partnership with Relay for Life and helps reduce ocean waste and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

    IMAGE: Chris Marone
Last Updated April 15, 2016