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How to recycle your old phone
No device lasts forever, especially when there’s constant pressure to upgrade for the latest features and compatibility. But you shouldn’t toss out your old Android or iPhone if you can help it. On a selfish level, you might be able to get some money back — and if you’re more altruistic, you can help out people and the environment. We’ll explore some of your options below.
Many carriers and retailers offer trade-in and/or recycling programs for old phones. There are also third-party recycling services, and charitable organizations that will either use the proceeds from recycling or give phones directly to people in need. Alternatively you can give a phone to a loved one, or repurpose it for tasks that don't need cellular.
How to recycle your old phone
The simplest option for most people is trading in a phone as part of buying a new one. If your old phone was manufactured recently enough, and it’s in acceptable condition, you should be able to get money back from some carriers and retailers — the more recent and pristine your device, the better you’ll do. Don’t expect to completely offset the cost of a new device, but it could mean the difference between a phone costing $1,000 or $800.
A number of companies offer trade-in programs, such as Amazon, Best Buy, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Terms vary, and in some cases you may only receive credit towards a future purchase, not cash. The best example of this may be Apple — while the company accepts both first- and third-party phones, by mail or in-store, payment comes in the form of store credit or a gift card. It also tends to pay less for Android devices, so even if you’re switching platforms, it’s worth checking other trade-in options first.
While it’s by no means guaranteed, you can potentially make more money by selling your phone directly to someone. If you don’t know a friend or family member who’s willing to pay, there are auction sites such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
Auctioning is more complicated and risky than a trade-in. You’ll need to match or undercut the price your phone is typically reselling for, pay for shipping if there isn’t a direct handover, and hope the other person holds up their end of the bargain. If you arrange an in-person sale, trust and safety become extremely important — meet at a populated, mutually-agreed public location, and only accept payment in the form of physical cash or direct app-based transfers. If you can, bring a friend or two along without being intimidating.
Reusing it or giving it away
If you’ve got a partner, child, or other loved one who could use a phone, giving your old one to them may be even simpler than a trade-in. As with any handoff, just be sure you’re not giving them something broken or outdated, and that you transfer your data and SIM card before you reset the device.
Sometimes you can hold onto a device yourself and repurpose it, relying on Wi-Fi and USB for data instead of cellular service. You might for example turn one into a security camera, a smart home controller, an iPod-style music player, or even a retro gaming handheld if you can load an emulator and pair a gamepad.
Commercial and non-profit recycling services
Because some of the parts in phones can be valuable, dangerous, polluting, or some combination of the three, many recycling services have sprung up. Phones that end up with them are often too old or damaged to be resold, in which case they’ll be broken down for safe disposal or extracting what value they do have. In the US and Canada, one option is Call 2 Recycle.
Many of the same companies that have trade-in programs also offer recycling. Best Buy, for instance, recently announced a mail-in recycling program that lets you ship items in bulk as long as you stay within weight limits. Apple will recycle any phone you bring if it can’t be traded in, and in the case of iPhones, it even has purpose-built disassembly robots so it can put materials into future products.
A lot of people need phones and can’t afford them, or sometimes, the proceeds from recycling can be put towards charitable causes instead of just a bottom line. Medic, for example, runs a Phone Donation Program that funds open-source software development for healthcare. Cell Phones for Soldiers uses the proceeds from donated phones to pay for international calling cards for active troops, and/or emergency support for veterans. Both of those programs are US-based, but there are plenty of options in other countries.
One of those is Goodwill, which (in addition to the US) has a footprint in countries like Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Finland, South Korea, and Taiwan. Just make sure you label your phone or tell a receiving clerk about it, since electronics need to be handled differently from other donations.
Don’t limit yourself to the names we’ve mentioned here — if there’s a cause you’re interested in, chances are there’s a charity taking phone donations, whether in your home city or elsewhere.