How to recycle, trade in, donate, or sell your iPhone 11

With the announcement of the iPhone 12 during Apple's Oct. 13 event, first adopters and iPhone fans want to find a way to make a smooth transition between their current and newest smartphones.

iPhone 12 launch roundup: Apple's first 5G iPhone, HomePod mini and what was missing

A new era—and iPhones—were announced during Apple's Oct. 13 event, and many are already scrambling to get the iPhone 12. If you're on a contract service plan, your provider will likely offer some sweet deals. Still, people are increasingly buying their phones outright and patronizing providers that offer for a single person or a group, a set monthly subscription rate that can be canceled anytime without penalty.

One way you can help fund the new phones (which range from $699 to $1099) is to recycle, trade, or sell your current generation iPhone. You can formally recycle—through bins such as UpCycle4Hope, Eco-Cell—trade it in with your provider, or sell it through a post on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. But each represents a form of recycling. Eventually, when a phone becomes wholly obsolete, it will become e-waste, but until then, phones are refurbished and passed on, or sold to others for whom "the latest and greatest" is of less importance.

The Phone 12's four models, equipped with 5G and the proprietary MagSafe, now offer upgrades, faster performance, and even a lower price point. Google reports that, as it has in previous iPhone launch years, the phrase "sell iPhone" continues to trend.

The iPhone 12 is available in four versions: A 5.4" iPhone 12 mini, a 6.1" iPhone 12, a 6.1" iPhone 12 Pro, and a  6.7" iPhone 12 Pro Max.

SEE: How to migrate to a new iPad, iPhone, or Mac (TechRepublic Premium)

The still available but comparatively less desirable (i.e., not brand new) iPhone 11 is available in three sizes: The 5.8" iPhone 11 Pro, the 6.1" iPhone 11, and the 6.5" iPhone 11 Pro Max. The least expensive iPhone 12 is $699, which is equivalent to the iPhone 11.

Determine your phone's value through research into popular methods of selling. You'll need to provide the basic details of the phone, as well as its serial number and IMEI/ESN, so a recycler or an individual buyer can look up the official status of the phone (i.e. clear, and reported stolen, replaced; the latter two render an iPhone useless). 

When you are ready, backup the phone. When you get a new phone, deactivate your old one. Remove your SIM card, Google and iCloud accounts, too. Conduct a factory reset and you're ready to sell. 

Sell it

Let's set a standard to compare how companies value our phone:

  1. iPhone 11 with 256 GB
  2. in excellent condition
  3. no cracks or scratches
  4. unlocked (no specific, proprietary provider)

Depending on current stock and expected demand, prices for the trade-in value will vary. 

Apple The 256 GB iPhone 11 is currently available on the Apple site for $849, and trade-ins start at $220. If you have an even older version, an iPhone XS Max, for example, Apple would offer $450 trade in for it, toward the 256 GB iPhone 11 (bringing the cost of the 11 to $399). Apple offers the opportunity to buy the phone outright or through a payment plan.

Additionally, if you have a specific carrier, you can trade your current phone in, either in stores or online. Different carriers will offer varied payment for trade-ins.

Amazon Trade-In has a cell phone category and offered $445 for an iPhone 11 with 256 GB.

Best Buy Trade-In The device retailer will buy your phone, but you don't get cash, you get a Best Buy gift card, which you can then use toward the iPhone 12. Yet another option is to visit your carrier at Best Buy (but you'll get the same offer you would in store or online). 

EcoATM kiosks are located around the country and take a device, inspect it, and hand over a cash voucher right on the spot through its automated system. But it's a little like any quick-cash transaction (i.e. check-cashing services) you'll receive significantly less money than through other recycling/trade-in options. When the iPhone 6 Plus came out, I tried to submit my mint-condition iPhone 4 (not even an S) and EcoATM replied, on its screen, that it could pay me $0 for my used phone. When the company debuted in 2008, it was considered pioneering (and inspired by coin counting/collection machines). 

Gazelle gives you an online estimated price based on information you provide, and if you decide to sell, they'll give you a box which you mail to them. After they receive the phone, they'll determine how accurately you described the condition of your phone, and then give you the actual price they'll give you. Sometimes it's more, as TechRepublic's Teena Maddox found, when she used the service, and other times, it might be less. If it's worth less, you have the option of having it sent back to you or accept the adjusted amount. Gazelle offered $266 for the mint 265 GB iPhone 11.

Swappa describes itself as "buy and sell newish tech" and "a friendly marketplace." The online consignment service said the average asking price range for a mint iPhone 11 with 256 GB in September 2020 on the site is $721.

Trademore is another company that will pay you immediately, if you're anxious to sell your phone. You get an estimated price, a prepaid packaging to ship your smartphone to its warehouse. Like Gazelle, it will assess the phone and determine if you'd described it well and pay the estimated amount, but if not, you'll be offered less. Trademore gives you the option to choose an acceptable range even before you ship your phone to them, or you can indicate you only want the original offer and your phone will be returned to you. You get paid through either a virtual Mastercard gift card or through PayPal. It offered $366 for the hypothetical iPhone 11 trade-in.

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Donate it

Whatever you decide to do, please don't throw it away; it is estimated that 152 million phones annually are tossed into the garbage. If you don't need the trade-in funds to get the iPhone 12, there are several ways to donate and be charitable.

The nonprofit program Cell Phones for Soldiers won't give you any money for your old phone, but it has drop-offs throughout the country, and will refurbish a donated phone and give it to a currently serving soldier or veteran as a cost-free communications service and emergency funding through its "Minutes That Matter" program. 

Veterans Advantage is a similar service that will collect and recycle used phones and use proceeds for additional benefits and discounts for active military members, veterans, and their families.

Cell4Pets Will resell your device and donate the funds to a no-kill animal shelter, which will then find responsible and loving homes for millions of abandoned and abused dogs and cats. There are an estimated 2,000,000 homeless pets euthanized annually. 

Medic Mobile safely recycles your phone to fund healthcare programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Each donated and recycled smartphone helps fund Medic Mobile projects supporting health workers in 26 countries, who use the phones to register pregnancies, track disease-outbreaks faster, monitor essential-medicine stock, and communicate during emergencies.

Some retailers such as Lowes, Kroger, Safeway, Batteries Plus, Walmart, and others may have recycle drop-off stations for smartphones to be recycled into new electronics instead of ending up in a landfill. 

Local municipalities may also offer electronics recycling, but call or email local government officials for details. 

Also see 

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the latest Apple event.

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iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max come in midnight green, space gray, silver, and gold finishes.

Image: Apple