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How To Recycle Smartphones In A Smart Way

0 shares Share 0 Tweet 0 Pin 0 Share 0 One of the largest electronic waste of our modern days is cell and mobile phones, which people seem to be replacing more often than ever before. And while everyone… Read More

One of the largest electronic waste of our modern days is cell and mobile phones, which people seem to be replacing more often than ever before. 

And while everyone should avoid replacing perfectly good old phones just to get the latest camera feature, it’s also important to understand your options for cell phone recycling. 

To help you understand why this is so important, I’ve put together this extensive guide. I’ll also tell you exactly how to recycle phones and what you absolutely must do before handing an old phone over. 

Let’s dive right in. 

Why Throwing Away Your Old Smartphone Is NOT A Good Idea 

Let me first show you why cell phone recycling is so important and what e-waste is doing to the environment. 

Your Smartphone Is Not Meant To Last!

It’s hard to believe that many people buy a new smartphone every year when Google, Apple, or Samsung bring out a slightly modified newer version. But it’s even more staggering that the average lifespan of a phone these days is less than 2.5 years.

And here’s the thing, if you pick up a three-year-old iPhone, there’s very little you can’t do with it. It’s hard to believe that they would be classified as old cell phones.

But that also highlights that there are alternatives to cell phone recycling, as there are plenty of people around the world who would still get beneficial use out of a phone that’s just three years old. 

How Many Smartphones Are In Landfills?

Smartphones have become one of the most common types of electronic waste, with estimates of over 100 million ending up in landfills each year. That is a staggering amount of wasted resources and potentially toxic materials causing harm. 

And many of those cell phones are still in perfect working order. 

Here’s the real tragedy of these numbers: cell phone recycling has never been easier, and in many cases, people are even throwing out money. 

Smartphones in Landfills

Harmful Toxins Leach Out

While smartphone manufacturers often talk about using recycled materials and cutting down on toxic chemicals, pretty much all electronic devices contain lead, nickel, beryllium, and mercury.

And cell phone batteries also contain lithium

It takes complex cell phone recycling processes to extract all these materials to ensure they don’t end up seeping into the environment where they can be lethal to animals and humans. 

Waste Of Precious Materials

One of the big economic incentives of cell phone recycling is the valuable materials they contain. These include gold, silver, and palladium, and old cell phones often contain enough to make the recycling process financially viable. 

Research suggests that one million cell phones contain 16 tonnes of copper, 350kg of silver, 34 kg of gold, and 15 kg of palladium.

That’s $1.2 million in gold alone in one million cell phones. Now consider that over 100 million cell phones and up in landfills each year, and you get how much precious metals waste there really is. 

You Could’ve Earned Money!

And then there’s the alternative option to cell phone recycling and something you should consider with all your electronic devices. Just because you think the cell phone is too old doesn't mean that someone wouldn’t still buy it. 

There are plenty of people who either can’t afford the latest models or simply want to extend the life of cell phones to reduce their economic impact. 

How To Prepare Your Smartphone For Recycling? 

First of all, if you haven’t done so already, make sure that you have a full data backup. You can either do this by saving everything to a cloud service or onto your computer. 

Google, Android, and Apple phones all have services available to do this at the click of a button. Some manufacturers will also automatically transfer all your data and settings to your new phone. 

The reason this is an important step is that once the cell phone recycling process has started, it will be impossible to get that data back. But more importantly, you could expose yourself to privacy issues. 

The next step of cell phone recycling preparation is to make sure you fully erase the content on the device. Even older cell and mobile phones can contain things like login details, pin codes, and phone numbers. 

But with smartphones, there are a lot more things to worry about. You could have personal photos, financial information, and login details for all your different accounts, from Netflix to banking and private chat services. 

Always do a full device erase before you consider recycling your old cell phone. And if it’s broken, then it’s important to use a trusted recycling company that offers certified data erase service.

Preparation for smartphone recycling

Steps You Should Follow Before Smartphone Recycling

So, here are the steps you should follow as part of your cell phone recycling process. 

  1. Back up your data to the cloud or a physical device.
  2. Go into all apps that you need to log into and sign out.
  3. Get a list of apps and services that require two-factor authentication, as many of these will require additional steps on your new phone. 
  4. Do a full factory reset of the old cell phone to remove all data. 
  5. Use a recycling company like GreenCitizen that offers certified data erasing as an additional layer of avoiding privacy issues. 

Where And How To Recycle Smartphones?

Now, let me show you how easy recycling cell phones can be, including some options to put money in your pocket. 

e-Waste Recycling Centers

By far, the best option for dealing with an old smartphone is bringing it to a certified and legitimate electronic waste processing company. 

Recycling companies have to follow strict criteria to get full certifications, and that involves proving certain standards in the handling, stripping, and disposing of toxic materials. 

When you choose a certified recycling company, you’ll have a lot more confidence that they will handle all the materials in a safe way. 

I already mentioned above that data destruction is an important part of cell phone recycling. If you use a non-certified company, then your cell phone could get into the hands of hackers.

And that could result in some personal and sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. 

A reputable e-waste company can take in a smartphone that you can no longer turn on and erase and make sure that all data is physically destroyed without exposing you to privacy issues. 

Why choose an e-waste recycler

Old cell phones contain a combination of valuable precious metals as well as toxic materials. You want to make sure that the company you hand your smartphone over to doesn’t just focus on the precious metals. 

They also need to be reputable in safely removing and disposing of toxic materials like lead and mercury. 

These are often difficult to process and expensive to dispose of using official channels. And as you want to recycle old cell phones to ensure you reduce their environmental impact, this is one area that you don’t want to end up falling short on.  

And finally, by choosing an e-waste company, you can make sure that old smartphones don't just end up in a container to be shipped to developing countries. 

Manufacturer And Carrier Take-Back Programs

Another way to deal with recycling mobile phones is to go directly through manufacturer and carrier programs. Here are the main ones that you can use. 

Samsung

Samsung has a great trade-in program where you can easily search for what your old device is worth. Whether it’s a smartphone, watch, or tablet, you could even be getting a great discount on a new device.

Apple

Apple also has a trade-in program for all their devices. If your device is no longer working, it might not have value, but you’ll still be able to return it for proper and safe recycling. 

Google

If you have a Google phone, then you also have the option to get a trade-in value on a new device. The system is very easy to use, and your credit is applied almost instantly. 

AT&T

AT&T offers a cell phone recycling service that is very flexible. You can either choose credit against buying a new phone or, if you’ve already bought a new phone, then you get credit against your monthly bill. 

Sprint

Sprint also offers a wide range of options for returning phones. Either get credit against your bill or choose from many of the upgrade options available. 

Verizon

Verizon has a smart online feature where you provide a few details about the type of device and condition. You then get instant credit. Alternatively, you can also check in a Verizon store about getting a trade-in discount. 

T-Mobile

With T-Mobile, the process seems to take a little longer, but the company offers great discounts through the trade-in program. 

US Cellular

And finally, US Cellular also offers a great service to help you responsibly deal with an old smart or cell phone. The company offers up to $600 off depending on the model of phone you have. 

Sell Your Old And Working Smartphone For Money 

Another alternative to recycling cell phones is to turn them into cash. Most people don’t realize that they could have a pile of cash tied up in old cell phones in drawers around the house. 

And the sooner you try to sell them, the more you can get. 

Selling old phones - recycle smartphones

EcoATM

This is one of my favorite services for any electronic device. The company has over 5,000 ATMs around the country, often located in convenient places like Walmart and Westfield. Simply input details about the old cell phone and bring it to one of the ATM locations. 

Decluttr

Here’s another great service for your old phone. Not only will you get cash for it, but you can also immediately use that cash for heavily discounted refurbished phones that come with a guarantee. 

GadgetGone

This company seems to offer the best prices, but the process takes a little bit longer. You supply details about your cell phone or most electrical devices you might have, and then you send them in for assessment. If the condition is as you describe it, then you get paid. 

Swappa

Here’s another great site for turning old cell phones into cash. The company also has one of the best selections of pre-owned gadgets at extremely great prices. 

SellCell

It’s a clever brand name, and the company claims to offer a guarantee to pay the highest prices for cell phones. And you can get some heavily discounted gadgets for your new cash as well. 

Donate Your Old Smartphone 

And finally, if you don’t fancy the hassle of selling your cell phone but think that it’s still too good for breaking down and recycling, then a great option is to donate it to a good cause. 

Most local charity stores will accept old cell phones, but there are also a few nationwide services you can use. It’s always important to do a background check with charities, as there are some shady organizations that masquerade as a charity. 

donate and recycle smartphones

Medic 

This service allows you to recycle your old smartphone and support a good cause. The company uses the funds from donated phones to build its software systems and support medical staff in poor countries across Africa and Asia. 

The Wireless Alliance

This Colorado-based company will recycle your phone and use the proceeds to support environmental efforts and organizations. 

Cellphone for Soldiers

This is another great cause where your old phone will either go directly to active service members or veterans who might be struggling to afford modern phone equipment. They will take a broken phone to recycle it and use the proceeds to help fund other veteran organizations. 

911 Cellphone Bank 

This simple service allows you to help some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest communities. Simply register with the company and send in your smartphone, and your good deed is done. 

EcoCell

And if you want to support people and organizations in developing countries, then EcoCell is a great choice. The company offers cell phone recycling for all kinds of phones, and it’s a great educational resource to find out more about what’s actually in your cell phone. 

How GreenCitizen Can Help With Smartphone Recycling 

I’d like to now introduce you to GreenCitizen's service to recycle cell phones. It’s one of the leading recycling services in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it also offers options for people around the country. 

Electronics Recycling with GreenCitizen

Electronics Recycling Drop-off - San Francisco Bay Area Only

If you live in the Bay Area, then you can simply take advantage of GreenCitizen's drop-off service. This is ideal for individuals who also want to reduce the impact of cell phone recycling efforts to a minimum. 

But before I show you how easy the process is, there’s one tip I have. 

Check your home for all the old electronic devices you might have, including those old and spare cell phone batteries. Most people will find plenty of devices other than cell phones that they no longer use. 

Once you’ve gathered all those items, here’s what you need to do. 

  • Step 1: Fill out the drop-off form with all the details about the devices you want to recycle. 
  • Step 2: Determine if your items fall into the free or paid recycling list of items
  • Step 3: Call to the GreenCitizen service center and meet an employee who will accept the items. 
  • Step 4: The GreenCitizen employee will then weigh the paid recycling items and provide you with a quote. 
  • Step 5: Pay using a contactless chip reader and know that you’ve done the right thing with your cell phones and other devices. 

Business Recycling Pickup Services - San Francisco Bay Area Only

GreenCitizen also offers the most convenient pick-up services for businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Not only does that make recycling phones a lot easier and less disruptive for a business, but it allows companies to declutter old technology all in one go without having to worry whether everything will be dealt with in an ethical way. 

Here’s the process to follow if you want to recycle cell phones and other electronics that no longer have business value. 

  • Step 1: Collect all the electronic devices that are on our accepted list near a convenient loading area. 
  • Step 2: Separate any items with hard drives and other data storage parts that you want us to put through a certified data destruction process. 
  • Step 3: Take photos of all the items and send them to us. 
  • Step 4: A GreenCitizen employee will provide an estimate for the recycling process and send it to you. 
  • Step 5: Confirm your preferred pick-up time and make sure that there is easy access to the devices and that they are all stored in boxes. 
  • Step 6: The GreenCitizen team will weigh and process all the items and then send you a detailed invoice. 

Mail-In Electronics Recycling - US-Wide Service

For people who live outside the Bay Area but still want to recycle cell phones with GreenCitizen, there’s a great mail-in service available as well. While it would be more economically friendly to find a local service provider, this is the best option if you’re finding it difficult to locate a reputable recycling company near you. 

Here are the steps you need to follow. 

  • Step 1: Determine if your old cell phone and other devices are on the list of free or fee recycling items
  • Step 2: Weigh the paid items and fill in the mail-in form with all the details. 
  • Step 3: Make sure you select data destruction services if you haven’t been able to do a full factory erase of the cell phone.
  • Step 4: Pay the recycling fee online once you receive the details from us. 
  • Step 5: Choose your favored shipping company and send the cell phones and other devices to GreenCitizen. 
  • Step 6: Receive a notification once your devices arrive at the recycling facility ready for processing. 

It’s a very convenient way to do the right thing with your old cell phone and can be a lot cheaper than you might think it would be. 

Green Directory - US-Wide Service

And finally, GreenCitizen has a Green Directory that allows you to search for registered and certified electronic waste recycling companies across the USA. This can be the most eco-efficient way to recycle cell phones, as many people often pass such service providers on a regular basis. 

Simply navigate to the Green Directory and enter your ZIP code and “phone recycling” in the search field. 

This will provide you with a list of the closest companies to choose from. 

green directory

FAQ

How do you dispose of a phone that doesn't work?

The way you dispose of an old cell phone that doesn’t work is to bring it to an e-waste recycling company. You can also consider services offered directly by manufacturing companies, as the majority of them take back a cell phone for processing.

How can I find a drop-off location for recycling my cell phone?

You can use the Green Directory to find a drop-off location for recycling your old phone. The directory allows you to easily search for companies near you that have the necessary certifications to process a cell phone for recycling.

Can cell phones be recycled by mail?

Yes, you can recycle a cell phone by mail using GreenCitizen’s mail-in service. It’s a very convenient and easy way to make sure that your cell phone doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Can batteries be recycled with a cell phone?

Yes, batteries can be recycled with a cell phone. The processes that are used to recycle phones separate all the different precious and toxic materials to ensure that an old phone doesn’t become a hazard.

Should you remove a SIM card before recycling a phone?

Yes, you should always remove the SIM card from old phones before recycling them. It’s the safest way to ensure that you properly destroy it so that nobody else can retrieve any sensitive data.

Does a factory reset delete everything permanently?

Yes, a factory reset will delete everything permanently from a cell phone. But there are some older smartphones where modern techniques might still be able to retrieve partial data. That’s why it can be very important to opt for a data destruction service.

What is the best mobile recycling site?

GreenCitizen is the best mobile and cell phone recycling site. It offers drop-off and mail-in services that give you flexible options to properly deal with your old phone.

Take The Ethical Approach And Recycle Cell Phones

If you want to recycle cell phones in an ethical way, then I recommend using one of the options available with GreenCitizen. If you’re in the Bay Area, drop your device off with the peace of mind that it will be properly handled. 

Alternatively, you can use the mail-in service described above. 

The one thing you want to avoid is simply dumping it in the trash, which will end up meaning that toxic materials leak into the environment. 

And if you have any questions about the easiest option for you, then simply call the team at GreenCitizen to help you out. 


Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen's passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.

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