old cell phones

Is your cellphone contract about to expire? If so, your carrier will likely allow you a free or cheap upgrade if you turn in the old phone for recycling. Sending a trade-in device at the end of a mobile contract is the easiest and most common way that people recycle their old phones. If your old cellphone is so damaged that it can’t be repaired for someone else to use, your carrier might not accept it for a trade-up, but you should still recycle it.

Phone manufacturers and various third-party organizations provide financial incentives for recycling old phones. Some limit your recycling to one device in exchange for a new device, but others allow you to sell multiple phones.

Let’s take a look at why that’s important and how you go about recycling your old phone.

Why Go to the Trouble of Recycling an Old Phone?

It might seem like garbage to you, but your old phone contains valuable materials. And if it’s not properly disposed of, it’s a potential danger to you and the environment. Consider these reasons it’s important to recycle your cellphone in the first place.

Harmful Materials

There are many kinds of materials inside cellphones that are quite dangerous to humans, animals, and plants.

For example, mobile devices contain mercury, which has long been known to cause brain damage, muscular disorders, and other medical issues. Lead is another common element in phones. It can cause cancer and brain damage. There are more, but those are the two most dangerous materials. A qualified recycler will know how to handle the harmful materials in the phone safely.

Conserving Resources

It only makes sense that if you recycle a phone, the materials can be put to good use. The gold, solder, and silicon in a phone can be recovered and used again. Some materials, such as the rare earth elements used in electronics, are only available from China and could be cut off in the case of conflict. If your phone is inoperable, a qualified recycler can recover some of its plastic, metal, and rare earth elements. If it still functions, you’ll be preventing the need to produce another one, which saves valuable natural resources.

Waste Reduction

If you take good care of your phone, you can turn it in and reduce the amount of waste entering the ecosystem. This, alone, is a good reason to recycle an old phone.

Money in Your Pocket

Consider the money you save when you turn in a working phone for a new one. Not only do you get a spiffy new cellphone, but you get a cash discount on it. Some sellers even give consumers a cash bonus for turning in an old phone. So, in addition to all the environmental and safety reasons for recycling a phone, you can get a nice financial reward too.

cell phone with broken screen
Photo: Ashkan Forousan, Unsplash

Just Do It! How To Recycle Your Old Phone

There are two steps to recycling an old phone. If it’s damaged beyond repair, as in a fire or flood, you can simply drop it at a local recycling center that accepts electronic devices and be done with it. You can enter your ZIP code in the Earth911 Recycling Search tool to find a location near you.

But, if you’re like most people and intend to trade in your functioning cellphone for an upgrade, you’ll need to prep it first to ensure your data is secure. Then you can safely give it to your vendor, knowing that none of your sensitive data is still on it.

Here’s how to prep your old phone before turning it in for recycling — or for refurbishing and resale to another consumer:

  • Clean it thoroughly: Don’t use cleaners that contain ammonia, which most window cleaners contain. Use alcohol instead.
  • Completely back up your data: Check your phone’s manual online and follow the exact procedure for backing up data.
  • Perform a proper reset: Do a factory reset, which will eliminate about 95% of all the personal information on the phone.
  • Take the SD and SIM cards out: Remove all SIM, SD memory, and other cards that you may have added to the phone for additional memory or capabilities.
  • Test basic functions: Is everything working? Check the backlight, charging ports, volume control, touchscreen, power button, camera, and whether there are dead pixels on the screen.
  • Turn in for recycling or refurbishing: Tell the organization you give your phone to about its general condition. They’ll usually test the basic functions to make sure it’s in good shape. If it isn’t, simply tell them to recycle it. If it’s in decent shape, be sure they give you credit for a trade-in or trade-up on your account.

Where To Trade In or Recycle Your Phone for Cash

The following phone manufacturers offer trade-in programs that provide credit toward a new mobile device:

Most mobile carriers offer generous trade-in values if you are considering a new phone:

And a variety of companies buy old phones to recover the materials they contain or resell them, often overseas:

You can also take your old phones to Staples, Office Depot, and Best Buy to drop them off for recycling. It’s always a good idea to call first and confirm.

A Word of Caution

Don’t store old phones long-term in your home or office. Unused cell phones and batteries can become dangerous if exposed to temperature extremes or moisture, potentially exposing you and others to harmful substances. Be safe and take your old phone directly to a local recycler, which usually includes your carrier’s store, as soon as you get a new phone.

To find recyclers in your area, visit 

About the Author

Jennifer Hanzlick is an entrepreneur, speaker, and hoarding expert. She was inspired to create a business to help people remove the junk and clutter from their homes. She found out many people are overwhelmed with the amount of clutter or junk in their homes. They want to get rid of it but don’t know where to start and need extra help. And this is how Clutter Trucker was born!

Feature image by Eirik Solheim on Unsplash. Originally published on June 23, 2020, this article was updated in August 2021.

By Earth911

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