Smartphones are common enough that even if you don’t upgrade often you likely have one collecting dust somewhere.
So what can you do with these dusty, damaged phones? Turns out you have quite a few options.
From making a little money on your old phone or simply knowing how to dispose of old cell phones in an environmentally responsible manner, you have plenty of options available and we’re here to help you find the best one for your needs.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020
Cell Phone Recycling
Tossing your phone in the garbage is never a good idea. Not only are you throwing away money but the various electronic components are also far from biodegradable.
So if you’re looking for a more Earth-friendly way to dispose of your phone, phone recycling is the best option.
Better still, some places will pay you for your phone -- even if it’s smashed or took a swim. This all depends on the model of your phone, its condition, and whether there is any demand for your model. But in most cases, you can at least recycle it for free.
Things to Take Care of Before You Get Rid of Your Phone
Most of the options listed in this guide involve giving your phone to someone else. That means you’re potentially handing all of your personal information, photos, log-ins, and messages over as well.
Whether you recycle your phone, sell it online, or donate it to a good cause, there are a few things you’ll want to take care of before you do so.
A quick overview of important steps include:
- Removing any microSD cards or storage expansions
- Removing all accounts from your phone
- Factory resetting your phone
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. If you want to be sure you’ve covered all your bases -- or want a few extra tips to scrub the data from your phone -- our guide on important considerations before selling your phone outlines everything you need to know.
Where to Recycle Your Old Phone
There’s a good chance you have a handful of locations nearby who accept phones for recycling. There are retail stores, dedicated services, charities, and more. The following are a few of the most popular options.
With handy kiosks all over the country, EcoATM makes recycling your phone simple. Just head to their site or download their app, enter your phone information, and get an estimate. Then use their kiosk finder to locate a place to drop off your phone near you. You’ll get an offer and if you agree with the price, you’ll get cash on the spot.
While it only works for Apple products -- sorry Android fans -- you can take any used Apple device into your local Apple Store and trade it in with their Apple Renew program. They don’t offer cash though. Instead, you’ll receive store credit toward a new phone or an Apple Store Gift Card. Still, if you’ve been eyeing a new app, a new phone, or some movies or music on iTunes, a gift card has its uses.
Many carriers offer trade-in programs good for store credit or discounts on your bill. Just phone them up or drop by your local store and ask about options. Sure, you’ll probably have to deal with them trying to upsell you a new phone or upgrade your service, but it will ensure your phone is reconditioned and finds a new home or is disposed of properly.
From major chains -- such as Best Buy -- to smaller local stores, many places that specialize in electronics also offer recycling programs. Terms will vary based on the company. So ask any questions you might have before handing over your phone.
Check with Your Local Government
As more people use electronics of all shapes and sizes, disposing of everything from televisions to smartwatches has become a major concern for most local governments. To help keep e-waste out of their landfills and processing facilities, many have created specialized e-waste programs which provide free or low-cost recycling to encourage residents to keep their gadgets out of the garbage can.
Cell Phone Donations
If you’re less worried about cash upfront but would like that warm, fuzzy feeling of helping a good cause, many charities accept cellphone donations. They’ll either recycle or resell the phones themselves and put the money toward a good cause or provide phones to those in need.
In most cases, you won’t see any money upfront. However, depending on regulations in your area and the charity you choose, you might find you can claim a tax deduction on the donation. Just keep in mind, you probably can’t claim what you originally paid for the phone. So don’t think you can turn your old tech into a gold mine.
Where to Donate Your Phone
E-Waste Fundraising Programs
As mobile devices continue to grow in popularity, many local charities now use phone recycling to raise funds for important causes. Checking with local churches, charities, and other non-profits will often yield a list of options in your area.
As a nationwide non-profit, Secure the Call collects phones to help provide phones to law enforcement personnel, homeless shelters, victims of abuse, and more. You can learn more about their mission and how to donate here.
Phones donated to Medic Mobile are used by healthcare professionals in developing regions to help them monitor treatments, communicate with other professionals, and provide care. You can learn more about their mission and how to donate here.
Providing phones for military families both at home and abroad, Cell Phones for Soldiers helps keep families connected around the world. You can learn more about their mission and how to donate here.
Sell Your Old Phone
Selling your old phone is an excellent way to turn something you don’t use anymore into a quick bit of cash.
Depending on the amount of work you’re willing to put in, the model and condition of your phone, and the current demand on the market, you might be surprised how much your old phone is worth -- even if it’s beaten up or flat-out broken.
Ways to Sell Your Old Phone
Retail Trade-In Services
While these services often offer the lowest prices, they’re also the easiest option available. You let the store or kiosk inspect your phone. When they’re done, they’ll make you an offer.
Accept their offer and you get paid on the spot. No haggling, no hassles, and no having to create advertisements and deal with random people off the Internet.
Online Trade-In Services
Typically offering better prices than retail trade-in services, online trade-in services often provide an estimated value for your phone based on your own assessment. Then they’ll provide a prepaid method to mail in your phone.
Once the phone reaches their facility, they’ll inspect it. If they agree with your assessment, they’ll honor the original quote. Otherwise, they’ll counter-offer with a lower amount.
If you take it, they’ll mail you a check or prepaid card. Don’t like the deal? They’ll mail your phone back. It’s a similar process to retail trade-ins, but it takes a little more time.
Online Classified, Phone Sales, and Auction Sites
Despite requiring the most work of the three options listed here, you might make a lot more for your old tech by selling it yourself.
You’ll need to clean up your phone, take lots of pictures, and create an ad. Then you must ensure the buyer is legitimate, meet them or mail your phone, and take care of any payments in the meantime.
But depending on the site you use, there might be fewer protections in place to avoid scammers and fraudulent buyers. So proceed with caution if you plan to use this method.
If you’re looking for more information, our guide to selling your old cell phone covers everything you need to know.
As one of the most popular online classified sites in existence, Craigslist is a great option for selling your phone. Just be sure to include plenty of pictures and hide your email.
As one of the largest auction sites on the planet, eBay makes it easy to get your phone in-front of the eyes of millions. Of course, there's also greater competition.
If you're looking to sell your phone but want a bit more protection than classifieds offer, Swappa is a great no-cost option.
Repurpose Your Old Phone
If you’re not ready to let go of your old phone -- and it’s still in decent shape -- there’s no reason to let it keep gathering dust.
Even if you can’t use it as a traditional mobile phone, there are plenty of options for giving your phone another useful purpose.
Create a smart home controller to turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat, or play music throughout your home with a few taps
Use free apps to turn your old phone into a VOIP phone for low-cost calling or emergency use
Turn your used phone into a baby monitor or surveillance camera with the help of free apps to keep what’s important to you safe
Create the ultimate media center control panel to make family movie night simply or add a touch of luxury to your man cave
Control your PC from anywhere you have Wi-Fi access using free remote desktop apps
Convert your phone into a mobile media and gaming device with the help of popular media center apps and emulators
For ways to accomplish these tasks and more, check out our guide on uses for your old phone or tablet.
1. Why should you recycle a phone? What are the benefits?
Between planned obsolescence, the sheer growth of interest in mobile phones, and the pace at which phones have evolved, electronic waste from phones is growing at an astounding rate.
Recycling your phone helps to offset this trend and keep phones out of landfills where they essentially sit forever. They’re not exactly biodegradable.
Furthermore, phones contain a number of rare-earth metals -- both in their batteries and in the phone hardware itself. So recycling can help to ensure these rarer materials aren’t wasted.
Finally, there’s the carbon footprint and power requirements to consider. Recycling your phone drastically reduces both of these factors saving energy and reducing emissions at the same time.
ThoughtCo notes, “If Americans recycled all of the 130 million cell phones that are tossed aside annually in the United States, we could save enough energy to power more than 24,000 homes for a year.”
2. Is it true there’s gold inside cell phones?
Yes, though it’s in small amounts -- so don’t plan on hoarding old phones to amass a fortune.
According to a BBC report, 41 mobile phones contain roughly as much gold as 1 ton of gold-rich ore deposits. But there are a number of other precious metals and rare Earth elements hiding inside today’s mobile phones as well.
In a later 2016 article, they highlight these, saying, “A typical iPhone is estimated to house around 0.034g of gold, 0.34g of silver, 0.015g of palladium and less than one-thousandth of a gram of platinum. It also contains the less valuable but still significant aluminium (25g) and copper (around 15g).”
3. So what parts of a phone can be recycled?
From the metals used in the processors and components to the glass and plastic used in the screen and case, a large portion of the average smartphone is recyclable.
AZ Central notes, “It's estimated that up to 80 percent of the parts found in mobile phones are recyclable, including many of their metals and plastics, which can be melted and reused in moldings. Another important recyclable component of mobile phones is silver. Such cell-phone components as LCD screens, lenses, microphones, battery connectors, SIM cards, and phone cases are also reusable.”
4. What happens old phones when they go off to recycling?
The answer depends on the condition and age of your phone.
If the phone still functions, there’s a good chance the recycling center will simply refurbish the phone. They’ll clear out the storage, replace any damaged parts, and get the phone running like new.
Newer phones are often used as replacements by insurance companies or sold to new owners at reduced prices.
Older phones typically find their way to regions of the world where mobile technology is less accessible -- such as remote regions of Asia, Russia, Africa, or Latin America.
For phones which are truly broken or too old to refurbish, companies will strip down the phones and harvest the rare elements and precious metals inside for reuse.
5. Should I donate or dispose of my phone or try to sell it?
There’s no perfect answer to this. It’s mostly up to you.
Either way, you’ll help reduce waste and emissions.
However, if you’re looking to make the most money for your phone -- and it’s less than a few years old -- selling it is the clear winner.
6. How much is my phone worth?
This will depend on the model of phone you have, its condition, market conditions, and more.
There’s not a simple formula to figure things out. However, there are a few places you can get an estimate.
- eBay’s Phone Value Calculator
If you plan to sell your phone on an auction site or through online classifieds, this tool is great for getting an idea of what your phone might be worth.
- Online Comparison Sites
If you’d prefer to know your trade-in value, there are also a nice selection of websites designed to help you compare all of the trade-in, resale, and recycling options available by price. Top choices include Flipsy, SellCell, SellMyCellPhones, and BankMyCell.
7. What if my phone is broken? Can I still donate it or recycle for cash?
Definitely. Most cell phone donation and recycling services accept phones in any condition. However, they often won’t offer money for broken phones.
8. Can I put my phone in my household recycling bin?
In most cases, no. However, you can call your local recycling service to confirm.
Most local recycling services simply aren’t equipped to handle batteries and the metals involved in recycling e-waste.
Just because you’re old phone isn’t a part of your everyday carry kit anymore doesn’t mean you can’t get some value out of it.
Whether you recycle it, donate it, sell it, or repurpose it, these tips offer simple ways to make the most of those phones and tablets hiding in the corner of your office or in a kitchen drawer.
 iMore : How to Recycle Your Old iPhone
 Brit + Co : Here Is How to ACTUALLY Recycle Batteries
 ThoughtCo : The Benefits of Cell Phone Recycling
 WhistleOut : Give to Charity Without Spending a Dime: Donate Your Old Cell Phone
 Wikipedia : Mobile Phone Recycling
 The Penny Hoarder : How to Sell Your Old Phone for the Most Amount of Cash
 How Stuff Works : 5 Ways to Donate Your Old Smartphone or Cell Phone to Charity
 BroadbandChoices : How to Recycle Your Old Mobile Phone
 AZ Central : What Parts of Electronics Are Recyclable?
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