Wondering what to do with the old broken cell phones you’ve stashed away in a drawer? If you’re here, you already know that throwing them away is not an option.
When it comes to getting rid of broken cell phones, the last thing you want to do is be careless. Not only is your phone full of sensitive personal information, it’s also an environmental hazard.
As tempting as it is to let your old mobile devices collect dust in a junk drawer or shoe box, the reality is that you’re holding on to a ticking time bomb.
Lithium-ion batteries–the rechargable devices that power our phones–degrade over time, and can eventually bloat and potentially explode. It’s not something you want to have happen inside your home!
Thankfully, we’re here to take the mystery out of what to do with old broken cell phones–and how to sustainably recycle them. We’ll even cover a few FAQs at the end, so be sure to check those out.
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How to recycle broken cell phones
In the U.S. alone, more than 100 million cell phones are thrown away each year. Many of these end up in landfills because of careless disposal.
Toxic chemicals like bromine, lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium are used in the making of batteries and other parts of our cell phones. When they aren’t properly disposed of, they contaminate our water bodies and soil.
In addition to causing pollution and irreversible damage to our air, land, and water, discarded phones also pose a threat to aquatic and human life. Plus, because every phone contains trace amounts of precious metals like gold and Platinum, throwing them out in bulk turns out to be a costly and wasteful affair as well.
80% of a modern cell phone’s components can be recycled, including the battery, circuit board, screen, and speaker. There’s simply no denying that when we learn how to recycle a broken cell phone instead of throwing it out, we do the planet and ourselves a huge favor.
Here are some of the places where you can recycle your old cell phone.
EcoATMs are automated kiosks that collect your electronics (even broken ones) and give you money in return.
Yes, you read that right–as long as your old device has any resale value, this machine pays you for it! No haggling and no dealing with strangers, just check your device’s worth and drop by one of the 5,000 kiosks located across the U.S.
EcoATM works with R2 certified e-waste reclamation facilities to make sure phones are either recycled or given a second life, making it both a responsible and rewarding solution. EcoATMs are located near the checkout lines of many grocery store chains.
Mobile carrier take-back programs
Lots of cell carriers have trade-in programs for old models that are still in working condition. You can find information about your carrier’s take-back program by checking its website, but most of them collect phones either by mail or at their stores and recycle them for free.
Most of these programs will give you a credit towards purchasing a new phone rather than cash.
Drop off sites
It’s not only manufacturers but even retailers like Amazon that accept old electronics for recycling. Some retail stores like Best Buy, Office Depot, and Staples even allow you to drop off electronics for free. You just need to call and confirm with them beforehand.
Local government collections
Several local governments and organizations in your city will have listed locations where residents can drop off their used electronics for proper recycling. Contact your city officials or your local Solid Waste Program Coordinator to see what programs they offer in your area.
Many local municipalities run hazardous waste home collections a few times a year, so you can get rid of your old broken cell phone from the comfort of your own home.
Where to donate old phones
While a busted camera or poor battery might make your phone feel broken, there are people out there who just need a phone for making and receiving calls.
If you’re wondering what to do with old cell phones that still work, donating is the best option. By giving your phone a new home instead of sending it to the dump, you are not only helping the environment, but also a stranger in need.
Listed below are some of the organizations and places that accept used phones.
The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) runs a donation program called Pickup Please that is available in 13 states. All you have to do is arrange a pickup online and wait for a driver to come to collect your donations for free.
Donated electronic devices and other small items are sold and the proceeds go to Vietnam war veterans across America.
Call2Recycle is a battery recycling and stewardship program. Their phone collection program accepts all cell phones to refurbish, resell, or recycle, depending on the condition of the phone. Just find a drop-off location close to you through the website and drop your phone off.
Cell4Pets is a great option for pet lovers who want to get rid of an old phone with a resale value. Sell and ship your old iPhones, iPads, smartphones, and tablets to this organization for them to be recycled and resold on your behalf.
The North Shore Animal League, a no-kill shelter that helps dogs and cats in need, is the beneficiary of part of the proceeds from every device you sell.
Second Wave Recycling
Second Wave Recycling is another organization that supports various worthy charities and causes like animal welfare and rescues, helping domestic abuse survivors, and the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers support services to the veterans of America.
The program accepts old phones and other electronics like iPods, MP3 players, and smartwatches to resell once they’ve been refurbished. Older devices that cannot be given a second life will be recycled instead, making this a great option for everyone.
Where to sell your old cell phones (even if they’re broken)
Some companies buy old broken phones for cash. This is true regardless of the condition of your phone, and for two reasons. First, to fix them up and resell them for a higher price if they’re in good condition, and if that isn’t possible, to dismantle and recycle them for parts.
SellMyMobile is a popular mobile comparison site to find the best offers for your old phones. Compare quotes, pick an offer, mail in your phone, and get paid. It’s that simple! Other sites that work similarly are Decluttr and SellCell.
Apart from online sites, it’s also worthwhile to check your local electronic repair shops. They usually accept old, broken phones and offer a small amount of cash in return.
Another option to consider if you are the owner of an Apple device is the company’s renewal program that allows you to trade in old iPhones, iPads, and iPods for gift cards.
Other things to do with broken cell phones
Check if your phone is covered under warranty
If the damage to your phone is minimal, check to see if your phone is still covered under warranty. Find your phone’s receipt, or warranty card and see if your phone is eligible to get a free repair.
If you have an iPhone, you can go into the Settings and check if your device is still under warranty.
Manufacturer repair service
Many manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and LG offer free mail-in recycling for their older phones and offer gift cards in return. Look at the manufacturing company’s website or call their customer service to find information about their repair and recycling service.
Take your phone to a repair shop
There is a good chance that your old phone is actually in better condition than you think. If that’s the case, it’s likely your nearest phone repair shop can fix it up for you at an affordable rate.
Small repairs like a broken battery, a faulty charging port, or a cracked screen should be no problem at all.
What should I do before getting rid of my old cell phone?
First, create a backup of all your files and transfer them to a memory card or store them online in the cloud. If you have an Android phone, you may be able to do a file transfer directly to your new device via USB.
Go into your settings and make sure you are signed out of all your accounts, as well as unpaired from all Bluetooth accessories like headphones, speakers, and similar devices.
Next, read the owner’s manual and delete all your phone’s system files by carrying out a “factory reset”. This will clear your personal data as well as any customizations and installations.
The last step is to remove or erase the SD card and SIM card from your mobile phone.
Most companies and organizations will not accept your phone if you don’t perform a factory reset, so don’t skip this step!
How do you dispose of a cell phone battery?
Household hazardous waste like batteries should be disposed of responsibly at a hazardous waste facility drop-off.
First, see if you can make the process easier for yourself by checking if your carrier offers any return programs for phones. Recycling programs like Pickup Please, Call2Recycle, and Second Wave Recycling are other options.
Can I recycle my old cell phone for money?
Yes. EcoATMs are automated kiosks that exchange your electronics that have a resale value for money. Some companies like SellMyMobile, Decluttr, and SellCell even buy old broken phones for cash to dismantle them and recycle the parts.
Can cell phones be recycled by mail?
Many cell carriers have trade-in and take-back programs for older phones that collect phones by mail. SellMyMobile, Decluttr, and SellCell are other companies to check out for similar services.
How much gold is in a cell phone?
A cell phone contains about $2 worth of gold in its circuit board or roughly 1/30 of a gram.