Recycling used cellphones in Lenox could help save lives in Africa
LENOX -- The town's environmental committee is looking to harvest people's used cellphones for recycling by Hope Phones, a nonprofit based in Dallas.
Jeffrey Reel, a member of the committee, says the organization uses the recycled materials to help save lives in Africa.
"In the U.S., we throw away 500,000 used cellphones each day," he said. "If we can capture just 1 percent for a period of time, we can get this technology into the hands of 1 million health care workers [in Africa]."
Reel recently received blessings from the Lenox Select Board to start up the program in town.
"We'll be setting up two receptacles, one at the library and the other at Town Hall," he said.
A program on ABC News detailing the efforts of Josh Nesbit, a graduate of Stanford University, inspired Reel to pursue the idea in town.
Nesbit traveled to Malawi while in school to assist medical workers in a region of that country.
"This particular hospital was serving about a quarter-million people, spread 100 miles in every direction," Nesbit said in an interview with ABC. "So you literally had patients walking 60, 80, 100 miles to access care. One nurse would get onto a motorcycle and drive 10 hours a day trying to track down patients."
Nesbit realized health care workers and patients could text one another and cut down on the lengthy travel times in many cases.
But he needed the software to pull it off.
That he found back at Stanford: An open source software platform called FrontlineSMS, developed by area personality Ken Banks. Nesbit then returned to Malawi with the software, a laptop and 100 recycled mobile homes, thus launching the program.
Health care workers there soon found themselves able to text over the entire area where Nesbit previously worked. The phones are used to respond to emergencies, diagnose patients and keep track of medical records via texts.
However, the workers soon realized they needed more phones.
"Your old phone will turn into two or three phones for health workers," Nesbit said in the same interview. "Every one of those phones will connect another 50 to 100 families to emergency and essential services."
Nesbit now heads Medic Mobile, a company that's helped more than 50 organizations acquire similar technology in 20 countries.
Reel would like to see the program can reach beyond Lenox and become a county-wide effort.
"What I'd like to do is basically appeal to people, not only to people in Lenox to give in an old phone, but to other people in the county, who can set up similar receptacles in their own towns," Reel said. "There really is a cumulative effect."
Cellphone recycling also reduces environmental pollution. The phones contain plastic, lead, nickel, beryllium and cadmium.
To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD