Cell Phone Recycling 101: Main Facts and How It Works

Whether we’re aware of it or not, cell phone recycling has a positive impact on the environment. Certain components of these devices we so highly depend on are definitely recyclable, while others require proper disposal due to their hazardous nature. Cell phones contain (in small amounts) precious metals that we should all strive to conserve.

Since we can reuse these materials, it’s environmentally unfriendly to allow cell phones to end up in landfills – or in your junk drawer, for that matter. Curbside collection programs may not take your old cell phone, but it’s still fairly easy to recycle it. Simply contact a take-back or mail-in program (more about these below).

Recycling mobile and smart phones


How Much Can You Get Paid?

Once you decide you want to upgrade your mobile handset – something that happens quite often nowadays – you need to figure out what to do with your old phone. One of the most popular options is to hand it out to a family member or friend. Others simply keep them as spare. At the same time, you could try to get some of your cash back, as well as credit or trade-in value.

Whether you have an ancient, broken phone on your hands or an older version of Samsung, you can do something about old electronics you don’t want hanging around. If you’re interested, you can still get a few bucks; if not, at least learn how to get rid of them responsibly. Don’t hang your hopes on getting big bucks, but you can get a decent deal if you’re smart about it.

You can get money if:

  • The phone is in good condition
  • It’s 1 to 2 years old
  • If it’s a premium device (not budget)
  • It’s an iPhone or a Samsung
  • If it’s in a popular color (black is better than rose gold)
  • You sell directly to a buyer

In general, the money you can get for an old cell phone is depends highly on the model of your phone and the recycling method you choose. Many cellular service providers offer cell phone recycling in the form of buy-back programs. When you trade your phone in, they give your credit for future purchases. The newer your phone, the more money you’ll receive if you sell it to them.

Cell Phone Recycling: Old or Broken Handsets

If you’re trying to properly dispose of old electronics – such as a cracked or broken cell phone – you should be aware that most websites and trade-in programs won’t take them. At the same time, even those that will take them will often recycle them responsibly without paying you a dime.

However, there are other programs – like EcoATM – which can give you a buck for your trouble. EcoATM, for instance, can easily be contacted through their physical kiosks scattered at malls across America. They are also one of the few options that will pay you on the spot.

For antifraud and security reasons, EcoATM will require a driver’s license and a thumbprint scan before giving you any cash. You can, of course, do some research online beforehand, comparing different options. That way, you’ll be able to decide on the spot if EcoATM will pay you more or less than another retailer.

Shop Around

If there’s still life in your cell phone, you can get more money by selling it directly to a buyer. Craigslist and eBay are two of the most popular options, but they require more time and involve a higher risk of buyers changing their mind. But if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5S and you want to sell it, this is your best shot to make decent money. It also helps if you have the original packaging and all the original cords and accessories.

Good news: Hitting a few websites for credits and trade-ins takes less time than one might think. If you’re trying to get rid of a cell phone with water damage, you’ll get less money (or credit). But if you used screen protectors and cases, a flawless handset pays much better.

Evidently, prices and credits change in relation to the phone model, its condition, and the carrier. Not every service takes every phone, so call them first before you make your drop off. Some of your best chances are Best Buy, Amazon, Apple, Gazelle, and GameStop.

Know How You’re Getting Paid

So you’re trying to be eco-aware and do some proper cell phone recycling. Are you getting credit, cash, or a gift card in exchange for your old handset? In most cases, it’s the last one. Apple and Best Buy, for instance, are known for giving you gift cards to use at their stores. Carriers, on the other hand, may deduct the trade-in value from your next purchase. EcoATM and other direct sales will straight out give you cash.

But regardless of the form of paying, it’s good to work out the details before you agree to a price. If an online vendor is your best option, keep in mind your payment will be delayed a few weeks. After you ship the goods, employees will have to match the device to its actual condition and only then authorize your payment.

As a rule of thumb, make it habit to read the fine print. In most cases, you won’t be able to get your phone back if something goes wrong. Giving away your phone – even to a carrier buy-back program – is a pretty permanent and irreversible decision.



Prepare Your Cell Phone before Recycling It

Backing up important information you want to keep is a best practice before dropping your old phone off to a recycling center. Copy any contacts and photos and then erase any private information from the phone. If you’re unsure of how to do that, your carrier or phone manufacturer can help you prep your device prior to recycling.

The market for recycling cell phones and cell phone parts is rather extensive. Once collected, the phone’s data is completely erased and its condition is evaluated. In some cases, used phones can be refurbished and resold as a certified, pre-owned devices. If it’s too old or damaged to be refurbished, the phone is used for parts in the refurbishing process. The parts can also be processed for scrap materials that can be reclaimed. Any of these options is better than throwing our phones in landfills.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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