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 mobiles? Turns out you have quite a few options.
From making a little money on your old mobile or simply knowing how to dispose of old mobiles 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
Tossing your mobile 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 mobile, recycling is the best option.
Better still, some places will pay you for your mobile -- even if it’s smashed or took a swim. This all depends on the model of your mobile, its condition, and whether there is any demand for it on the market. But in most cases, you can at least recycle it for free.
Things to Take Care of Before You Get Rid of Your mobile
Most of the options listed in this guide involve giving your mobile 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 mobile, 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 mobile
- Factory resetting your mobile
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 mobile -- our guide on important considerations before selling your mobile outlines everything you need to know.
Where to Recycle Your Old Mobile
There’s a good chance you have a handful of locations nearby who accept mobiles for recycling. There are retail stores, dedicated services, charities, and more. The following are a few of the most popular options.
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 mobile or an Apple Store Gift Card. Still, if you’ve been eyeing a new app, a new mobile, or some movies or music on iTunes, a gift card has its uses.
Many networks offer trade-in programs good for store credit or discounts on your bill. Just give them a call 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 mobile or upgrade your service, but it will ensure your mobile is reconditioned and finds a new home or is disposed of properly.
From major chains -- such as CeX -- 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 mobile.
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.
If you’re less worried about cash upfront but would like that warm, fuzzy feeling of helping a good cause, many charities accept mobile donations. They’ll either recycle or resell the mobiles themselves and put the money toward a good cause or provide mobiles 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 tax relief on the donation. Just keep in mind, you probably can’t claim what you originally paid for the mobile. So don’t think you can turn your old tech into a gold mine.
Where to Donate Your Mobile
E-Waste Fundraising Programs
As mobile devices continue to grow in popularity, many local charities now use mobile 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.
WaterAid works around the world to provide clean water, decent toilets, and the basics needed for good hygiene to those in need. Their online donation system lets you determine how much of your mobile's value you'd like to donate and complete everything without having to leave the house. You can learn more about their mission and how to donate here.
Accepting both working and non-working mobiles, Oxfam will put your old mobile to use to help rebuild communities and help regions impacted by emergencies rebuild. They're also dedicated to eradicating poverty. You can learn more about their mission and how to donate here.
Sell Your Old Mobile
Selling your old mobile 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 mobile, and the current demand on the market, you might be surprised how much your old mobile is worth -- even if it’s beaten up or flat-out broken.
Ways to Sell Your Old Mobile
Retail Trade-In Services
While these services often offer the lowest prices, they’re also the easiest option available. You let the store inspect your mobile. 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 mobile based on your own assessment. Then they’ll provide a prepaid method to post your mobile.
Once the mobile reaches their facility, they’ll inspect it. If they agree with your assessment, they’ll honour the original quote. Otherwise, they’ll counter-offer with a lower amount.
If you take it, they’ll post you a cheque or transfer the money to your bank account. Don’t like the deal? They’ll post your mobile back. It’s a similar process to retail trade-ins, but it takes a little more time.
Online Classified, Mobile 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 mobile, take lots of pictures, and create an ad. Then you must ensure the buyer is legitimate, meet them or post your mobile, 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 mobile covers everything you need to know.
As one of the most popular online classified sites in UK, Gumtree is a great option for selling your mobile. Just be sure to include plenty of pictures, be prepared to haggle a little, and don't hesitate to walk away from a suspicious deal.
While not quite as popular as Gumtree, Craigslist is an excellent choice for anyone looking to get top dollar for their mobile.
As one of the largest auction sites on the planet, eBay makes it easy to get your mobile in front of the eyes of millions. Of course, there's also greater competition.
Repurpose Your Old Mobile
If you’re not ready to let go of your old mobile -- 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, there are plenty of options for giving your mobile 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 mobile into a VOIP mobile for low-cost calling or emergency use
Turn your used mobile 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 centre 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 mobile into a mobile media and gaming device with the help of popular media centre apps and emulators
For ways to accomplish these tasks and more, check out our guide on uses for your old mobile or tablet.
1. Why should you recycle a mobile? What are the benefits?
Between planned obsolescence, the sheer growth of interest in mobile, and the pace at which mobiles have evolved, electronic waste from mobiles is growing at an astounding rate.
Recycling your mobile helps to offset this trend and keep mobiles out of landfills where they essentially sit forever. They’re not exactly biodegradable.
Furthermore, mobiles contain a number of rare-earth metals -- both in their batteries and in the mobile 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 mobile 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 mobiles 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 mobiles?
Yes, though it’s in small amounts -- so don’t plan on hoarding old mobiles 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 mobile 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 mobile 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 mobiles when they go off to recycling?
The answer depends on the condition and age of your mobile.
If the mobile still functions, there’s a good chance the recycling centre will simply refurbish the mobile. They’ll clear out the storage, replace any damaged parts, and get the phone running like new.
Newer mobiles are often used as replacements by insurance companies or sold to new owners at reduced prices.
Older mobiles 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 mobiles which are truly broken or too old to refurbish, companies will strip down the mobiles and harvest the rare elements and precious metals inside for reuse.
5. Should I donate or dispose of my mobile 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 mobile -- and it’s less than a few years old -- selling it is the clear winner.
6. How much is my mobile worth?
This will depend on the model of mobile you have, its condition, market conditions, and more.
There’s not a simple formula to figure things out. However, if you plan to sell your mobile on an auction site or through online classifieds, eBay's mobile price estimation tool is great for getting an idea of what your mobile might be worth.
7. What if my mobile is broken? Can I still donate it or recycle for cash?
Definitely. Most mobile donation and recycling services accept mobiles in any condition. However, they often won’t offer money for broken mobiles.
8. Can I put my mobile 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 mobile 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 mobiles 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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