Smartphone with recycling sign on screen placed on white mesh bag on marble table.
Image: ready made/Adobe Stock

For those in possession of an “old electronics” box sitting in a basement, or merely an iPhone that has seen better days, it’s worth considering the concept of recycling.

In 2021, 1.4 billion mobile phones were purchased, a 6% increase year-over-year, according to Gartner. In the last quarter of 2021, overall sales were down due to extraordinary supply chain constraints. However, companies that took advantage of the 5G boom saw results, such as Samsung’s 11% growth year-over-year from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021.

A study by the EPA showed that consumer electronics made up less than 1% of materials waste and electronics in 2018, meaning many phones that could be recycled end up in landfills or sitting in desk drawers. Also according to the EPA, for every million cell phones we recycle we can save 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium. Not to mention the toxic chemicals you would be keeping out of groundwater, air and soil.

If you don’t want to spend ages finding the right place to recycle your old cell phones, here is a list of 10 options. Some of them are buyback programs, and others are nonprofit donations to developing nations.

1. EcoATM

EcoATM is an automated kiosk that collects your unwanted cell phones and tablets and gives you cash for them. It’s made by the same people who make CoinStar, so you’ll find them by the checkout lines at various grocery store chains. It accepts devices from any era or in any condition, and offers anywhere between a few bucks to a few hundred dollars in return. EcoATM partners with R2 certified e-waste reclamation facilities to ensure they are recycled, or gives the phones a second life.

2. Eco-Cell

Eco-Cell is a Louisville, Kentucky-based e-waste recycling company. It partners with nonprofits and organizations such as the Jane Goodall Institute. Bins are located in coffee shops and other businesses around the country, where the collected phones are shipped to Eco-Cell in Louisville. If the phones are reusable, they resell them and pass some of the money back to the owner. If they are not reusable, the phones are recycled, and the owner is paid the money for the value of the recycled materials.

3. Best Buy

Best Buy has recycling kiosks in its stores in the U.S., as well as recycling in-store for no charge to you. The company typically limits it to three items per family, per day. From there, Best Buy works with recycling companies to make sure the phones and other electronics don’t end up in landfills.

4. Medic

The Hope Phones campaign was started in 2009 by Medic Mobile, which works to advance health care in 16 countries by using mobile technology. Now known as Medic’s Phone Donation Program, individuals, nonprofits, groups or businesses can donate old phones. The mobile devices are recycled and valued, so the nonprofit can get new technology for the field. Most old models are valued at $5, but newer smartphones are regularly valued at $80, according to the website.

5. Cell Phones for Soldiers

Cell Phones for Soldiers is a nonprofit that works to provide cost-free communication services to active-duty military and veterans. New or gently used mobile phones are accepted, and each device valued at $5 turns into 2.5 hours of free talk time for the soldiers.

6. Gazelle

Gazelle is one of the most popular trade-in options for old cell phones. The company is headquartered in Boston, with locations in Louisville, Kentucky and in Texas. Select your phone’s brand, model and carrier, plug in what kind of shape it’s in, and then get an offer. Ship it for free, and receive a check or a gift card to Amazon.com or PayPal after Gazelle checks it out and makes sure it’s worth what you say it is.

7. Call2Recycle

Call2Recycle is a no-cost recycling program for batteries and cell phones in the U.S. and Canada. It has collection boxes that can be placed anywhere that have shipping permits, so mailing them is easy. Call2Recycle also has bulk shipping if there is a large number of recyclables.

8. Your carrier

AT&T has a trade-in program for unwanted phones and accessories regardless of manufacturer or carrier. The owner gets a “promotion card” that can be used to take money off a new phone or other purchase. Make sure you erase all your information before you turn them in, though.

Verizon also offers a trade-in program where the owner can receive an electronic gift card once they send in the phone and have it appraised.

9. Local places

Your city undoubtedly has places to recycle old phones. Most local government websites, like New York’s, have directions of where to go to recycle phones. A lot of cities usually have nonprofits that donate old phones as well. The EPA has an option to find out what electronics you can recycle with mail-in options.

10. Recycling for Charities

This nonprofit features one charity at a time, for which they donate money from recycling old phones. All makes and models are welcome at Recycling for Charities, and the phone condition is not an issue. The nonprofit makes an attempt to refurbish the device first; if the phone cannot be reused, they find recycling centers to ensure the materials won’t go into landfills.

These 10 services are well-researched and well-known options, but make sure to research on your own where your phone is being sent to be certain the device will go to a certified e-waste recycler, so it doesn’t end up in a landfill despite your efforts.

For more information, see ways to recycle or sell your iPhone X, how to recycle Apple Cards and how to recycle or sell Apple Watches.

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Catch up on the latest tech innovations that are changing the world, including IoT, 5G, the latest about phones, security, smart cities, AI, robotics, and more. Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays