Recycling old phones

Best answer: There are several things to do with a phone that you're no longer using and may not be worth selling used. Whether you donate or recycle, it's better than throwing a smartphone and its hazardous materials in the trash.

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, so it's imperative that we reclaim as much of these materials from a device at the end of its lifetime so that manufacturers can minimize new mining of these materials.
  • Hazardous materials are in every single smartphone, tablet, 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 give

How to prepare to part with your phone

Factory reset

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

If your phone does still turn on, turn it on 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. Factory reset the device to wipe all your personal data from the old device.
  3. Check the card trays and slots for any old SIM cards or microSD card 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

If you don't know which option is best for getting rid of your phone, let's break them down 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.

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 huge 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 it to help soldiers and returning veterans.

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

I just want to get rid of it. Take it to Best Buy offering 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.

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

This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.