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How to recycle or donate your old Android phone

Phones in a recycling bin
(Image credit: Android Central)

There are several things that you can do with a device that you're no longer using. Whether you donate, sell, or recycle your phone, just about anything is better than throwing a smartphone and its hazardous materials in the trash. In this article, you'll find some of our top suggestions for repurposing your old Android phone, such as how to recycle or donate it, followed by steps and guidelines on how to carry out those suggestions.

Why can't I just throw my phone away?

We create tens of millions of tons of e-waste — waste from electronic devices — every year, and just dumping it in the trash is the worst possible thing you could do with it. There are two types of materials in smartphones and other e-waste that require special disposal processes:

  • Precious materials like rare metals are hard to mine, refine, and use in electronics. We must reclaim as many of these materials from a device at the end of its lifetime as possible so that manufacturers can minimize the new mining of these materials.
  • Hazardous materials are in every single smartphone, tablet, and wearable, especially in the batteries. Putting these materials into a landfill can actually damage the environment — and putting them in an incinerator is even worse.

In both cases, rather than throwing it in the trash, we have a few ideas on how to give that phone a second life. After all, in addition to Reduce and Recycle, one of the 3 Rs is Reuse!

How to prepare to part with your phone

Factory reset option

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Android Central)

If the phone doesn't turn on anymore, you can skip this section and just take your phone to an EcoATM or Best Buy for recycling.

If your phone does still turn on, turn it on, and go through the following checklist:

  1. Check the internal storage on the phone for any files you may want to hang on to. You should've done this when you first upgraded from this old phone to your new one, but it's worth combing through it one last time.
  2. Need help resetting your phone?
  3. Check the card trays and slots for any old SIM cards or microSD cards you may have left in the old phone. Remove old cards before recycling your phone.
  4. Take off the case. While cases are handy when carrying a phone, cases undergo different recycling processes than the phones themselves, so take it off.
  5. If you're planning to sell the phone online on Swappa or some other online marketplace, look around your home and gather up the original chargers and box if you can, as having the box and the original accessories can help you fetch a higher price.

Figuring out where to recycle your phone

Grandmas Recycled Phones 1

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

If you don't know which option is best or what happens to your phone after you get rid of it, let's break them down to make the decision a little easier for you.

Is your phone less than 18 months old? Your phone might still be worth selling to get some of your money back. Selling it on Swappa can help give your device a second life. Swappa allows you to sell new, like new and used working phones with or without the original accessories and instruction manuals.

If you're buying a new phone to replace it, you may be able to turn it in as a trade-in for a discount as well. Both carriers and phone manufacturers often will take trade-in devices. Samsung, for example, gives discounts for eligible devices. 

Do you want to get back any money you can? ecoATM pays you cash on the spot for phones that still have any market value and offers free recycling for phones that no longer have any market cash value. ecoATMs are available in malls and Walmarts across America, meaning you don't need to drive vast distances or pay to ship your phone in.

ecoATM takes working or non-working smartphones without their accessories or instruction manuals.

Want to give your phone to a good cause? Cell Phones for Soldiers is a non-profit that helps recycle old phones and uses the funds generated from them to help soldiers and returning veterans.

Cell Phones for Veterans take working or broken phones and their accessories, but please discard instruction manuals.

Try repurposing it around the house. If your phone isn't too old and can still connect to your Wi-Fi, you could consider turning it into a learning or play device for a child, or even turn it into a makeshift security camera

I just want to get rid of it. Take it to Best Buy, which offers electronic and appliance recycling for phones, computers, TVs, and many, many, many other types of devices. Best Buy recycles working or broken mobile phones, but please discard the cases. Carrier stores will also often be able to recycle devices for you. T-Mobile stores for example will take you old phones, accessories, tablets, and netbooks.

Even Google offers a free way to recycle your old Pixel or other devices. In conjunction with its partner RLGA, they'll send you a pre-paid shipping label that you can use to send in your old phone.

Canadians can donate their devices at most carrier stores or drop-off locations hosted by Recycle My Cell across the country.

Next time, consider a more sustainable option

Fairphone 4 in pieces

(Image credit: Android Central)

Each year more phone manufacturers are making their devices more and more sustainable, and there are even several companies like Fairphone who is pushing the envelope even further. Be sure to check out our guide on the best sustainable and repairable phones before making your next smartphone purchase.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.