I was visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago and needed a phone charger. I pulled down the heavy "old electronics" box from a closet in the basement to find an extra one. Guess what else I found?
- 6 old iPhones
- A pink Razor (my pride and joy in eighth grade)
- 3 old LG phones
- 2 Blackberries
And I guarantee there are some others hidden around the house. That's from a family of four over a period of 10 years or so. They need to be recycled — and everyone in my house knows that, which is why we've kept them — but there they've sat, untouched.
SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)
In 2013, 1.8 billion mobile phones were purchased, an almost 4% increase from 2012, according to Gartner. In the last quarter of 2013 alone almost half a billion were purchased — and that number was predicted to grow by almost 5% this year.
A study by the EPA showed that only 11% of e-waste is made up of mobile phones, which means almost 90% of them are ending 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, 774 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. Not to mention the toxic chemicals you would be keeping out of groundwater, air, and soil.
Here is a list of places to recycle your old phones. Some of them are buy back programs, others are nonprofit donations to developing nations. (Editor's note on Sept. 23, 2018: Check out the recently published 17 ways to recycle or sell your smartphone and 10 tips for buying refurbished technology devices.)
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 that 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.
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 their stores in the US, as well as recycling in-store for no charge to you. They typically limit it to three items per family, per day. From there, they work with recycling companies to make sure the phones and other electronics don't end up in landfills.
4. Hope Phones
The Hope Phones campaign was started in 2009 by Medic Mobile, which works to advance health care in 16 countries by using mobile technology. Individuals, nonprofits, groups, or businesses can host a Hope Phones campaign to donate old phones. They 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.
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. Pick your brand, model, carrier, and plug in what kind of shape it's in, then get an offer. Ship it for free, and receive a check or gift card to Amazon.com or PayPal after they check it out and make sure it's worth what you say it is.
Call2Recyleis a no-cost recycling program for batteries and cell phones in the US and Canada. It has collection boxes that can be placed anywhere, which have shipping permits so mailing them is easy. They also have bulk shipping if there is a large amount 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" which can then 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 also 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. They make an attempt to refurbish it first, then find recycling centers to ensure the materials won't go into landfills if the phones cannot be reused.
These 10 services are well-researched and well-known options, but make sure to research on your own where your phone is going to make sure it is going to a certified e-waste recycler, so it doesn't end up in a landfill despite your efforts.
- The gadget with a conscience: How Fairphone crowdfunded its way to an industry-changing smartphone
- Photos: Making the world's first fair trade smartphone
- The depressing truth about e-waste: 10 things to know
- How recycled solar powered phones could save rainforests and change how the tech industry tackles climate change
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.