How to Recycle Cell Phones

The Consumer Electronics Association expects a cell phone to last less than five years, and that’s assuming you don’t decide to upgrade to new technology every two years.

The good news is that cell phones have the highest recycling market of any electronic material. The bad news is that in the U.S., we only recycle 10 percent of our phones, according to the EPA. The rest may end up in a landfill, but more likely end up in our desk drawers or garages.

Recycling cell phones has never been easier, as you can trade them in when buying a new phone for cash, mail them for recycling, take them to retail locations that participate in Call2Recycle or recycle them with other e-waste.

Cell Phone Recycling Preparation

  1. If you bought a new phone, make sure to transfer the data from your old phone. The store can often help with this.
  2. Locate the settings screen on your phone and factory reset it so all your data is removed. As an added precaution, you can also remove the SIM card.
  3. If the cell phone battery is removable, you’ll want to take it out. Most cell phone batteries are lithium-ion batteries, which require special transportation for recycling, so this is especially important if using a manufacturer’s mail-back program.

Use the Recycling Locator to find a drop-off location near you.

Find Recycling Guides for Other Materials

Frequent Cell Phone Recycling Questions

Can I recycle cell phones in my curbside recycling program?

Curbside programs are basically the one place you can’t recycle a cell phone, although some cities in California do offer this service if they are separately bagged. As a general rule, you’ll want to keep anything that uses a cord or a battery out of your curbside recycling bin.

How do I sell my old cell phone?

The easiest way to sell your phone is when you purchase a new one, especially if you have a smartphone. There are also hundreds of companies available online that will pay for your old phone, in addition to retailers like Staples. If your phone is not working or has a cracked screen, you’ll receive less value but can still make money.

Are there donation programs available for my cell phone?

Yes. Cell phones can be donated to those in need. Verizon’s HopeLine gives phones to survivors of domestic violence, and Cell Phones for Soldiers ships them to soldiers around the world. Many nonprofits will also recycle phones as a fundraiser.

Is throwing away my cell phone against the law?

As of 2017, 25 U.S. states require you to recycle some forms of electronics. Of those, 17 have banned them from landfills. While in many cases the laws cover only computer monitors (which would not include smartphone screens), the good news is that every time a new law is passed, recycling becomes that much easier for residents in that state. You’ll likely find your city or county offers cell phone recycling events at least once a year (usually around Earth Day on April 22).

What should I do with cell phone cases?

Cell phone cases are usually made of rigid plastic, which has a limited recycling market. You can try to sell them on eBay or donate to a thrift store, but you’re unlikely to find a recycler. If your new phone is the same size as your old one, consider reusing the case.

Can I repair my cell phone instead of recycling it?

Repair options will depend on what is wrong with the phone. If it’s water damaged, repair is unlikely to be an option. If you have a cracked screen, there are special retailers like Batteries Plus & Bulbs that repair phone screens for a fee. If your phone battery has no life, consider purchasing a new battery and recycling the old one.

Will the cell phone manufacturer offer a take-back recycling program?

Most cell phone manufacturers are now offering take-back recycling, but considering the abundance of recycling opportunities, you may want to use other options. Your better bet would likely be to recycle your phone through the plan provider than the manufacturer.

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