Modern smartphones are more or less essential for everyday life. But what you might not know is that the constant cycle of buying and upgrading phones is bad for the environment. Precious metals and other premium materials are extracted from the earth for their construction and when you throw away your phone, those metals and other materials will sit in a landfill for years and years.
Making your phone last as long as possible by repairing it and buying a used or refurbished model when it’s time to upgrade can help lessen the impact of your phone, but to ensure it stays out of a landfill, you should consider recycling or reselling your phone when you’re ready for a new one. Not only is it a better decision for the planet, but you might get a few bucks out of it too.
To walk you through the process, we talked to an expert in e-waste to figure out exactly how you should recycle your phone and lessen its impact on the environment.
Why can’t you just throw your phone away?
You may want to get rid of your old phone quickly by tossing it in the garbage, but that’s far from a good idea. Improper disposal of old gadgets can create e-waste landfills due to their inability to compose. This makes old phones an increasingly significant threat against the wellbeing of our environment.
“Approximately 57.4 million metric tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2021,” said Samantha Vesey, chief sustainability officer at Decluttr, a smartphone reselling and recycling company. And this e-waste can also contribute to global warming, according to Vesey. “As smartphone use grows, so will waste streams and carbon emissions. If sent to landfills, e-waste can leach harmful chemicals into the soil, or if incinerated, fumes release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.”
Because of this, it’s clear that throwing your old phone in the trash is far from a good idea. That’s why it’s important to recycle it somehow, and luckily, there are plenty of ways to do it.
Repurposing your phone
One of the biggest upsides of modern smartphones is their ability to last a long time. Nowadays, companies build their phones to adapt to longer upgrade cycles that can stretch to three or four years. The simplest way to make your phone more sustainable is to ensure it lasts as long as possible.
If you’ve only had your old phone for a couple of years, it probably still has plenty of life left in it. You could use it as a webcam for your laptop, a high-end iPod for media consumption, a photo frame for your desk or even as a VR headset with the proper hardware. There’s also the option of keeping it as a backup phone in case something happens to yours.
Another way to extend your phone’s lifespan is to get it repaired. Simple problems like cracked screens, broken ports or lackluster battery life can be solved with a trip to your local repair shop. And if there isn’t a shop around you, companies like CPR Cell Phone Repair make getting your phone repaired online easy, allowing you to send in your old phone and request the patch-ups you’re looking for.
Getting ready to recycle your phone
If your phone has finally met the end of its life and you need to get rid of it, it’s important to prep it so you don’t lose any data or, worse, have it fall into the wrong hands.
Make sure you back your phone up to a cloud storage provider so you don’t lose anything (photos, contacts, passwords, apps), then perform a factory reset to erase everything. Most phones can either use your Apple ID or Google account to back up your device. Alternatively, you could transfer the data from your old phone to your new one while setting it up, eliminating the need for a backup. You’ll also want to pop out your SIM card and any memory cards you may have installed.
Getting cash for your old phone
If your used iPhone, used Galaxy or other used phone is still in good shape, it may be worth reselling it. Many companies can give you an estimate for what your phone is worth, then compensate you via a check, direct deposit or PayPal when you send it in. Depending on the age and model of your phone, you may be able to score a good amount of money. The new iPhone 13 Pro Max, for example, could get you upwards of $800 to $1,150 in good condition.
Here are some companies worth checking out.
Decluttr can help you get rid of old tech (not just your smartphone) by paying you directly for your devices. You’ll get a quote instantly on their website and be given all the necessary materials to ship it to them for free. They also offer a recycling program as well as an online marketplace where you can list your devices for sale on your own.
Gazelle is similar to Decluttr in that it pays you directly for sending in your old phones or other gadgets. It then takes those old gadgets, inspects them, and refurbishes them for sale on their website. It’s a great place to shop if you’re looking for a used phone thanks to their rigorous approval process.
Swappa is essentially the ultimate community for those who want to buy and sell used smartphones. The company doesn’t allow broken devices to be listed on its website, and every listing is individually approved. It’s a safe and smart place to shop for used phones, tablets, laptops and even cameras.
SellCell touts itself as the place to go to maximize the cash you get for your old phone. It compares the rates of various smartphone buying sites to show you where you’ll get the most money back. It’s similar to how Kayak works for hotels.
If you don’t want to sell your phone, you can still divert it from the landfill by trading it in when purchasing your new phone. Carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile regularly offer deals on trade-ins that can knock off a considerable amount of money from the price of your new phone. And if you don’t want to go through your phone company, retailers like Best Buy, Samsung, Apple and Amazon offer similar programs that can help drive down the cost of your next phone.
If your phone is too old or in bad condition, there’s a good chance you won’t be getting a discount with your trade-in. If that’s the case, most retailers will take care of the recycling process for you so it doesn’t start collecting dust on a shelf in your home.
Donating your old phone
If you’d like to see your old smartphone benefit a worthy cause, donating it is a great way to do so. One of the biggest recycling campaigns is through Medic which receives compensation from The Wireless Alliance for used phones in order to fund its open-source software designed for healthcare workers in hard-to-reach areas of Africa and Asia.
Another great cause is Cell Phones for Soldiers, a national non-profit organization that aims to provide free cell phone service for active-duty military members and veterans. Each phone it collects that’s valued at $5 translates to 2.5 hours of free talk time for service people.
There’s also the 911 Cell Phone Bank. The program will take your old device and work to refurbish it. It’ll then offer it to vulnerable citizens in communities nationwide who may need an emergency phone line.
Where to recycle your old phone
Finally, if you’ve gone through all other options and it’s time to recycle your phone, there are many organizations dedicated to collecting and properly disposing of your old smartphone.
Call2Recycle is one of the largest recycling programs in the United States. The company collects used smartphones and batteries and has them either recycled or refurbished for future use. It partners with various retailers to provide recycling services in stores like Lowe’s, The Home Depot and other smaller businesses. It’s nothing short of one of the most convenient ways to recycle your phone.
Eco Cell takes a unique approach to recycling phones. The program collects used smartphones and other gadgets for recycling through local zoos and other wildlife organizations. It then gives what it makes from recycling or refurbishing the devices back to those organizations in order to continue their work. With locations spread throughout the country, it’s a great way to ensure not just that your smartphone is disposed of properly, but that its effects will greatly benefit wildlife and important research.
Best Buy offers a simple, straightforward recycling program. You can take your old phone to any of its retail stores and it’ll take care of the entire recycling process for you. Best Buy will even give you a gift card for the value of the device you give them.
Goodwill is synonymous with used clothing, furniture and other home goods, but it’s also a great place to take old electronics, including smartphones. The organization has a gadget recycling program that takes care of the entire process for you. Just drop your used devices off at one of its locations and it’ll take it from there.