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How to Recycle Cellphones + Why You Should

How To Recycle the Right Way

Last Updated on September 6, 2022

I own two cellphones: One for personal calls and texts, and one for work-related purposes, like creating high-quality videos for Instagram and TikTok. I’m a big fan of caring for my products (especially electronics) so they last for years to come. 

The average smartphone lasts between 2 to 4 years, and that’s assuming you don’t decide to upgrade to new technology every two years. Usually around the 3 year mark you’ll notice the hardware on your phone is outdated or your battery life won’t be the same. 

How to Recycle Cellphones + Why You Should

More than 100 million cellphones are no longer used each year, according to the EPA. If we recycled them all, we’d save enough energy to power 19,500 US homes for a year. 

Problem is, most people just keep their old cellphones in their desk drawers, or worse – toss them in the trash. But the irony is that so many components of cellphones can be recycled – but not with curbside recycling. 

For every million smart phones recycled, we can recover: 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. These are all materials that can be recycled into new products, which would help reduce the amount of raw materials mined and energy produced. 

Here’s how to recycle cellphones properly – and that includes donating and selling them too.  

How to Recycle Cellphones + Why You Should

how much waste is produced by mobile phones? 

Mobile phones contribute to approximately 10% of global e-waste. That number was estimated to weigh more than 50 million tons in 2019. 

Cellphones are made mostly from plastic, including the case and smaller parts. Here’s what most smartphones are made of, according to the EPA: 

  • LCD displays: Glass, plastic (made from crude oil), and liquid crystalline 
  • Circuit boards: Copper, gold, lead, silver, and palladium 
  • Rechargeable batteries: Lithium metallic oxide 

To make smartphones, manufacturers use raw materials extracted from the earth which are then processed in highly energy intensive ways. Tossing out your phone is wasting all the resources it took to make it in the first place. 

This also doesn’t consider the packaging used to contain and protect the phone. Virgin materials, such a paper from trees, plastic from crude oil, and aluminum from metal ore are typically used to package phones. Excessive packaging tends to end up in the garbage. 

However, some companies, like Apple, are attempting to reduce phone packaging waste. Their iPhone 12 for example had 50% less Apple packaging, with 100% of the wood fiber coming from recycled and responsible sources. 

Phone cases are another source of waste: More than 1 billion phone cases are produced every single year. These are used for 1-2 years, and then tossed in the trash. Switching to compostable phone cases, or ones made from recycled content can help curb this waste.

On top of this, when phones are thrown in the trash, they end up in landfills where their batteries will start to erode and break down. When this happens, the phone will leech toxic waste into the soil where it could potentially end up in our water supply.  

How to Recycle Cellphones + Why You Should

how do you prepare a cell phone for recycling? 

First, before you do anything, it’s a good idea to prepare a cell phone for recycling. You never want to recycle it just as it is. Here’s where to start. 

  • If you just bought a new phone, make sure to transfer all the data from your old phone. Sometimes your carriers can help with this.  
  • Make sure to remove the SIM card and locate the settings screen to do a factory reset so all data is removed.  
  • If you can remove the phone battery, do it. Most cell phone batteries are lithium-ion batteries, and they require special transportation for recycling. This is especially important if you’re using a mail-back program. Make sure to double check with the take-back or drop-off location if batteries are allowed. 

how do you dispose of a cell phone? 

The best way to dispose of a cell phone is to start off by checking with your cellular carrier. Some companies have buy-back or trade-in programs.  

Major carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T all have trade-in and recycling programs available. Apple and Samsung both have trade-in programs for older phones and will sometimes offer a gift card or credit in exchange. Apple, Samsung, LG and Huawei also let you mail-in your old devices.  

Just be aware many of these companies will only take-back or trade-in their own devices. So if you try to give an iPhone to Samsung, chances are they won’t take it. 

If that’s not an option, look for local cell phone recycling centers nearby. Drop-off sites can be found at some cell carrier stores, like Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, Microsoft Store, Home Depot and Target. 

You can also look for Call2Recycle drop-off sites and ecoATM phone recycling kiosks (I have one in a mall close to me!). Both companies provide locator tools on their websites. 

Call2Recycle accepts all types of cellphones and cellphone batteries no matter their size, model, age or make. EcoATM will buy your old phone from you, depending on the type of phone and condition. Even if it’s old and in poor condition, they will still accept it for recycling, free of charge.  

You can also choose to sell your cell phone for a little extra pocket cash using a reputable site. SellCell is a good place to start where you can sell or buy used tech, including mobile phones. You can even sell your broken phones here!  

Last but not least, consider giving your old cell phone to a friend or family member who could use it. Or, if it’s still in working condition, donate it to charity, like Goodwill or Salvation Army. 

where can I recycle old cell phones in NYC? 

If you live in NYC, you can recycle cellphones by visiting any Best Buy, Staples, Goodwill or Salvation Army store. The Lower East Side Ecology Center, or the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse are also good options for bringing unwanted electronics. 

So, are you going to recycle cellphones? Let me know in the comments below!

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