Man holding cell phone

Cell phone recycling positively impacts the environment. According to About News & Issues, cell phones contain precious metals that should be conserved. Since these materials can be reused, it doesn’t make environmental sense to allow them to go into landfills or sit in a junk drawer. In 2016, Earth911 conducted a survey of its readers regarding cell phone recycling and donating soliciting a response to the following question — why don’t you recycle your cell phone?

Respondents were also asked about cell phone donation habits as well. While many consumers do one or the other, there are still those who have understandable concerns that cause them to hold onto their old devices.

The results of the survey are below. We asked cell phone resale company GoodCellas, who is familiar with all of these concerns, to address each of them.

Survey Results

Not sure where to take it – 33%

Not sure where to take it ranks in the number one spot for concerns. This concern can be easily addressed through consumer education. There are plenty of resources available. Whether it’s going to your local library to see if they have a used cell phone bin for those in need, researching cell phone resale companies that match your needs, going through a nonprofit organization, upcycling it to be something new, or utilizing a tool such as Earth911’s Recycle Search, there are various options out there.

cell phone recycling
Why don’t you recycle your cell phone? Image credit: Champion studio / Shutterstock

Security concerns – 26%

The second most response — security concerns — can also be easily addressed through consumer education. Cell phones (as well as tablets, iPads, etc.) can hold a great deal of personal and sensitive information including phone numbers, addresses, emails, and passwords.

Consumers want to trust that their recycled or donated cell phone doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. While some companies use third parties to erase stored data, the Federal Trade Commission has this guideline for removing personal information. This includes:

  • Using the factory reset
  • Removing or erasing SIM and SD cards
  • Removing stored apps

I do recycle or donate my old cell phones – 18%

18% of survey respondents do in fact recycle or donate old cell phones. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they too don’t have similar concerns. However, their concerns were either not there in the first place or have either been addressed.

I give it to another family member/friend to use – 12%

Giving it to a family member or friend to use is a beneficial choice, especially if the person is in need of a cell phone. While there are less security concerns with family and friends (i.e. your trusted network), its still a smart idea to clear your personal information just in case they decide to recycle it further when they’re done using it.

Phone is too outdated for donation – 8%

For those who feel their phone is too outdated for donation, it’s always worth trying. Most cell phone resale companies offer a fair evaluation before you agree to sell it. This may change upon delivery if the description or photo doesn’t match. Check with the resale company to see if restrictions exist — i.e., specific brands, model years, etc.

If your device is not a good fit for resale, reach out to other organizations or consider the Earth911 recycling options mentioned previously.

Cell phone keypad
When it comes to why to recycle your cell phone, security concerns can also be easily addressed through consumer education. Image Credit: Mihai Simonia / Shutterstock

Concerned about it going to foreign countries for recycling – 3%

Another common concern users have is that the cell phone is going to end up being shipped overseas — possibly becoming e-waste. While exporting electronics is still an issue today, studies are still being done. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting,

“Tracking is really the first step in order to design a better system,” Ratti said. “One of the surprising things we discovered is how far waste travels. You see this kind of global e-waste flow that actually almost covered the whole planet.”

Check with your recycling company to see if they are a certified electronics recycler. The Responsible Recycling (“R2”) Standard for Electronics Recyclers and the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment (“e-Stewards”) are currently the two accredited certification standards. The EPA has information on specifically what to look for in this regard.


While addressing these understandable concerns doesn’t make them disappear, familiarizing yourself with the benefits of and different recycling options your outlook on the process may change.

Feature image credit: Champion studio / Shutterstock 

By Earth911

We’re serious about helping our readers, consumers and businesses alike, reduce their waste footprint every day, providing quality information and discovering new ways of being even more sustainable.