So, you want to get rid of your old phone. What do you do with it? First, don't throw it in the trash. It may be ancient to you, but someone else could use it. And, if it's broken, you still shouldn't dump it, as that's awful for the environment.
Some places have begun passing regulations to try to curb what's known as "electronic waste". But it still isn't always easy to figure out how and where to get rid of your devices in a way that might benefit you but also doesn't add more trash to the planet. Fortunately, some online services can help you figure out how to responsibly get rid of your phone.
Why you should recycle your phone
The growing volume of electronic waste, also known as e-waste, poses a major threat to the environment and human health. Certain components in phones, for instance, contain hazardous materials. And, when not correctly disposed of, they can leach these toxic substances into soil and groundwater. This can be avoided, thankfully, as phones can be reused, refurbished, or recycled in an environmentally-friendly manner. Having said that, only about 20 per cent of all electronic waste - globally - is recycled, according to the UN.
What to do before recycling your phone
Before you responsibly discard your smartphone, be sure to back up your data to the cloud so you don’t lose anything important. You also need to perform a factory data reset to your phone so that you’re not leaving any of your personal information behind for others to find.
How to recycle your phone
Earn some money by trading
Have you ever upgraded to a new smartphone by trading in your old phone? Congratulations, you already know the easiest way to recycle.
Carriers and stores
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and even Apple all offer trade-in programs, where you can trade in an old phone for a discount on a new one. Retailers like Best Buy and Staples also have trade-in programs that will let you earn from your old device. There might even be locally owned stores or businesses near you that will buy your old electronics. Shop around and try to get the best price.
Whoever made the device you’re trying to return might be your best bet. Samsung, HP, and Sony, for instance, each have trade-in programs. Chances are the company that made your device will also offer a trade-in scheme so that you can upgrade devices at a discount.
If you already have a new phone and just want to sell your older phone, there are options for that, too. Of course, eBay is a familiar choice, but you should explore phone reseller-specific services, as well, like Gazelle, which specialises in buying and refurbishing old phones.
Donate your phone to a good cause
Smartphones aren’t hard to give away. We all know one person who seems to break or lose their phone once a month. Here are a few niche charities that will take your old devices and use them for good. The only decision is: Which cause do you want to support with your old device?
The name pretty much says it all. Cellphones for Soldiers puts phones into soldiers' hands. Although it’s not exactly what you might expect; They don’t send your donated device to troops overseas. Instead, it uses the proceeds from your donated phones to purchase international calling cards that soldiers can then use with their military-approved phones. Since starting in 2004, Cellphones for Soldiers has donated 300 million minutes of talk time and provided emergency funding to 3,100 military families, all while recycling 15 million phones.
Every phone can call emergency services, and Secure the Call uses this to keep your old phone serving a purpose. It collects old phones and works to put them into the hands of people who are isolated and need a way to call 911 at any moment, like victims of domestic violence or the elderly. It'll even take your broken phone and trade it with recycling companies for phones in better shapes.
You can send Medic Mobile your old phone, and it will recycle it and use the profits to fund healthcare services in 26 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. You can ship your phone for free using a form from this website.
If you’re in the UK, you can recycle your phone and donate the proceeds to Oxfam, which fights poverty around the UK and accepts donations in all forms, even cars. It has a special page dedicated to helping you get rid of your old phone.
Responsibly discard your phone
But, if you’re looking to just get rid of a relic of a phone, or perhaps you’re the person with a stack of busted smartphones and you don’t know what to do with them, you still have a lot of options. Heck, most communities have some sort of recycling centre that will take e-waste.
Call2Recyle specialises in recycling batteries and smartphones. It has been around since 1994 and has numerous awards. It's also launched programs alongside the US and Canadian governments. You can use this locator on Call2Recycle’s website to find a location near you. Coronavirus has temporarily suspended all in-person drop-offs, but you can order a box to mail in a device.
Best Buy has been way out in front on recycling electronic waste; it's even the US’ largest recycler of devices and old tech. But many other electronic retail stores also offer recycling programs for phones, including Walmart, Staples, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s.
Your local recycler
Obviously, some things are just too old or too broken to be easily recycled to a charity or at a store. So, if you still can’t find a compatible place to donate your old phone, it’s time to get in touch with your local recycler or waste management authority. This might cost you something, but it’s usually not enough to break the bank. For example, our local waste station charges $5 to responsibly recycle TVs.