Choose Sustainability, Not the Trash, for Your Old Cell Phone

Whether upgrading or cleaning out the junk drawer, millions of Americans dispose of old cell phones each year. Every cell phone neglectfully thrown into the trash represents both lost opportunities and a negative impact on the environment and sustainability of our natural resources.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that for every million cell phones recycled, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

Let’s look at a few of the many ways you can do your part to live sustainably, conserve natural resources, and reduce the energy expended in mining and manufacturing.

Before you dispose of your cell phone

First, a word about your own security when disposing of your cell phone. Whether you choose to recycle, donate, or repurpose, here are a few things to consider:

Backup your data: If you have not already done so, make a backup copy of any important data that’s on your cell phone (ex. photos, videos, contacts). With most smartphones, this can be accomplished by syncing with Google Drive, Apple iCloud, DropBox, or any other cloud service.

Perform a factory reset: This will erase all the information stored on your phone’s memory. Every phone software is different but this feature can generally be found in the Settings menu. More detailed, step-by-step factory reset instructions can be found here. 

SIM & SD Card: After your personal data is erased, remove your SIM card and, if your phone uses one, the SD memory card.


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Ready to go

Now, you’re ready to choose an option for disposing of your old cell phone. Generally, these options are categorized as donating, recycle, or repurpose. Today, each of these options is highly developed with responsible organizations and systems that are increasingly convenient and secure.

Donate it

Many organizations will accept your old cell phone. They will either recycle or resell the phones themselves and put the money toward a good cause or provide phones to those in need.

In most cases, you won’t see any compensation for your donated cell phone. However, depending on the organization you choose, you might qualify for a tax deduction on the donation.

ECO-CELL has partnered with zoos and nature centers all over America that provide drop-off locations. All of the proceeds of this program benefit nonprofit environmental groups such as Rainforest Action Network and Gorillas on the Line. Find an ECO-CELL drop off location near you.

Medic Mobile is another charity that will resell some cell phones (although they prefer newer ones) and use the proceeds to purchase new phones for health care workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Learn more at medicmobile.org.

Big Sky Recycling is a recycle-by-mail program that accepts all makes and models of cell phones and smartphones. Profits from all donated phones support the military, environmental and social nonprofits. Learn more about the nonprofits they support and print a shipping label at Big Sky Recycling.

Cell Phones for Soldiers will accept your old phone and use it to help the families of U.S. soldiers. The phones are not actually used by soldiers or their family members. They are sold or recycled and the money used to provide prepaid calling cards and emergency financial support for military families. Just go to Cell Phones for Soldiers to learn how to donate your old cell phone

In the photo: An broken cell phone on the ground. Photo Credit: Big Sky Recycling.

Recycle it

There’s a good chance you have a handful of local options to recycle your old cell phones. The following are a few of the most popular options:

EcoATM has more than 350 kiosks around the country. Simply put your phone in the machine and follow the instructions on the screen. If your phone still has trade-in value, you will get cash right then and there. Go online to find a site near you.

Local recycling centers are operated by city or county governments in many places and usually have electronics recycling programs or provide you with information on local recyclers in your area. Here is one recycling database you can use to locate a drop-off location near you. If you’re interested in recycling more than cell phones, Earth911 provides local solutions based on the type of material you are trying to recycle.

Carriers & retailers: Most service providers, major retailers, and manufacturers offer recycling and trade-in services. Many now participate in the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SSM) Electronics Challenge. By joining this challenge, they are ensuring that your used electronics will be responsibly recycled, minimize exposure to human health and the environment, and require the destruction of all data. Among the many corporations that have taken the pledge are Best Buy, LG, Sprint, and Samsung.  Find the full list and learn here about the SMM Electronics Challenge.

In the photo: Old cell phones Photo Credit: Big Sky Recycling.

Repurpose Your Old Phone

If you’re not ready to let go of your old cell phone and it’s still in working condition, repurpose it. Here are a few options for giving your phone another useful purpose.

Convert your phone into a mobile gaming device. There are countless games for iPhone and Android, and many of them don’t require an internet connection. Or pick up a compatible virtual-reality headset and turn your phone into a dedicated VR gadget.

Create a smart home controller to turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat, or control your audio and video systems.

Turn your phone into a VOIP device, connect to wifi and use free apps for low-cost calling or emergency use

Keep it as a backup because phones get lost, stolen, and broken every day. If you’re more prone to having this happen, it’s a smart idea to have a backup phone ready.

Leave it on your nightstand and use it as an alarm clock, white noise machine, dedicated e-reader, flashlight, or meditation player.

It’s more than just one little cell phone

An estimated 350,000 cell phones are disposed of every day. Choices like yours to either donate, recycle or reuse add up fast. It is one of those clear win-win situations that you don’t want to miss.

In the cover picture: Old cell phones Photo Credit: Unsplash.


Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com contributors are their own, not those of  Impakter.com

About the Author /

Wesley Poritz, founder and owner of Big Sky Recycling. By harnessing the power of cell phones and electronics, Big Sky Recycling is dedicated to reducing e-waste and using profits as a means to a greater end: positive impact for our employees, communities, and the environment. Big Sky Recycling’s recycling program is a simple, secure, and free way to donate cell phones for charity.

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