Your smartphone's secret afterlife (Smartphones Unlocked)

A blue mat, a fine-tipped screwdriver, and a dozen itty bitty screws. This is Titus Green's workspace, set within a warehouse that processes 2 million pounds of unwanted electronic waste each year.

Green, 22, and his team at San Francisco Bay Area e-waste collection center Green Citizen, refurbish 30 cell phones a day to put back into customers' hands.

If you don't chuck your electronics down the trash chute (and please don't,) the most likely cycle is that the phone will be refurbished and resold, one way or another.

Of the appliances that come through Green Citizen'… Read more

EcoATM phone recycling kiosks proliferate (video)

A few years back, we introduced you to EcoATM, a San Diego-based start-up that had just hit the scene with an innovative kiosk that lets consumers trade in old phones for cash on the spot.

A "CBS This Morning" report this week checks back in with EcoATM, a maturing company that now boasts 181 kiosks set up in malls and retailers around the country. … Read more

Crave 74: Chaotic neutral (podcast)

This week, our Crave team talks about treats for tweets, geeky furniture, intelligent bullets, and a way to strap your phone to your face. In Geek News, we have a new "Avengers" trailer, a discussion on good and evil, and the gamification of our lives.

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E-waste recycled to make geeky decor

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, and this certainly seems to be the case for Chilean artist Rodrigo Alonso.

Alonso is the mastermind behind the geeky chairs pictured above. They're made from pieces of old tech donated by Chilean recycling company Recycla.

The graphic designer creates the stools by pouring epoxy resin into a mold filled with the e-waste; the legs are made from cast aluminum. Alonso produces the chairs in limited editions, but he also takes special orders. Since no set of e-waste is alike, each piece is original and dyes can also be added to the resin to add color.

For Alonso, the project is more than just a piece of furniture or work of art. The chairs, which are called N+ew for No More Electronic Waste, is also about recycling e-waste. Though consumer electronics companies are slowly becoming more eco-conscious and more recycling programs are being put in place, the amount of e-waste is still expected to rise exponentially by 2020, especially in developing countries. … Read more

eRecyclingCorps turns old phones into store credit

The conveyor belt of new mobile phone releases has created a stream of revenue for eRecyclingCorps.

The Irving, Texas-based startup today raised $35 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to expand its phone buyback services.

eRecyclingCorps, which is now used by at 3,000 Sprint and 500 Verizon outlets, lets consumers check the value of a phone they no longer want from a Web site and get a credit while in the store. A consumer can also use the application from home and mail the phone for a credit, although the company considers an instant rebate more appealing to … Read more

Stroke of genius: South African artist's keycap sculptures

Check out these keycap sculptures made by South African visual artist and cultural activist Maurice Mbikayi. Trained in graphic design and visual communication at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in France, Mbikayi's unique mixed-media collages and the keycap skulls represent the artist's thoughts on the impact of technology on Africa and the Earth's dependence on natural resources.

Mbikayi sourced the keycaps from piles of discarded technological remnants left around the streets of South Africa and are used in his works to question their original destination and intent.

Click through the break for more pictures of Maurice Mbikayi's works of art.… Read more

Cast-off gadgets peek into new owners' lives

There is an afterlife--for electronics, anyway. Ever wonder what it's like? Researchers at MIT tracked used computers to find out. The project gives you a glimpse of where cast-off laptops and smartphones end up.

Rather than simply providing statistics about the global flows of secondhand electronics and e-waste, the MIT Senseable City Lab researchers produced a series of images of the gadgets' new owners and their surroundings. The images hail from Indonesia, South Asia, and Africa.

For the project, dubbed Backtalk, researchers sent refurbished Netbooks to developing countries via nonprofit organizations. They set up the computers to record location and pictures, and send the data home to MIT--with their new owners' consent. The Netbooks carried stickers explaining the project in the local language.

The researchers captured the data using the open-source antitheft software Prey, which records a computer's GPS coordinates and takes a picture with the computer's camera every 20 minutes.… Read more

Low rates of metal recycling handicap green tech

Valuable metals contained in electronics and green-technology products are being recycled at "discouragingly" low rates, raising the prospect of material shortages, according to a United Nations-sponsored report.

The U.N. report, released last week, found a wide disparity in metal recycling rates and very low rates among even highly prized metals, such as gold, from electronics. The study recommends using product designs that make recycling easier and addressing the problem of obsolete electronics. About 18 percent of TVs and PCs are recycled and about 10 percent of cell phones, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Less than one third of about 60 metals had an end-of-life recycling rate over 50 percent and 34 elements had a recycling rate below 1 percent. In addition to creating a larger supply of metals, recycling is estimated to be two to 10 times more resource-efficient than smelting metals from ore, according to the study.

"In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental degradation," said Achim Steiner, U.N. under-secretary general and executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, in a statement.

Lead, which is most commonly used in batteries, is the most recycled, with a rate around 80 percent. Iron and other components of stainless steel are recycled at over 50 percent, as are precious metals platinum, gold, and silver. Gold is recycled at a high rate from industrial use, but only 10 percent to 15 percent from electronics, such as cell phones.

Meanwhile, there are several metals considered vital to green-technology… Read more

E-waste recycler goes high-tech to boost volume

Tons of electronics will be transformed back into raw materials using a highly automated series of electronic machines in a new facility in Ontario, Canada.

Sims Recycling Solutions flipped the switch on an e-waste recycling and refurbishing operation yesterday in Mississauga outside Toronto, which converts all incoming material. The facility will be able to treat and resell 75,000 metric tons of e-waste annually, including CRT monitors, TVs, PCs, and other electronics gadgets, such as digital music players and mobile phones.

In the U.S., electronic waste is a fast-growing source of waste. In 2007, about 18 percent of TVs … Read more

Best Buy buy-back program could boost e-recycling

Best Buy today launched a buy-back program designed to quash the fear of technology obsolescence. In the process, tech buyers can find a way to repurpose or recycle their electronic gadgets.

When Best Buy customers purchase the service with their products, they can return their product and get paid for a fraction of its purchase price, depending on how long the consumer had it.

If it doesn't have any resale value, the PC, TV, or smartphone will be either stripped down for parts or recycled in the U.S., as part of Best Buy's existing programs, said George … Read more