It’s Easy To Recycle Cell Phones, So Why Don’t More People Do It?

by Nicola Temple on November 18, 2011

I had a neighbour once, who had a drawer FULL of cell phones. She knew she could recycle cell phones; I’m just not sure she was ready to part with them yet. She’s not alone.

According to CTIA-The Wireless Network, a study was conducted in March2011 that showed most consumers know about cell recycling programs, but only about half are using them.

According to the study, 84% of consumers were aware that they could recycle their cell phones and other wireless devices.

That’s a good high percentage, which shows marketing teams out there are doing their job. There are even groups advertising on TV that they’ll buy back your cell phone for cash.

But the survey also showed that about 54% of these same consumers had actually recycled their wireless products.

Good news that more than half of the people were recycling their old cells, but what about that other 30%? The people who knew they could recycle but hadn’t. Did they have a junk drawer full of phones? Were they still carrying around their handheld analogue Motorola? Or do they just not care?

Then I realized that I would actually fall into this 30% group.

recycle cell phones

It has never been easier to recycle cell phones; sell them for cash, donate them to charity, or recycle and keep them out of landfills. CC image courtesy of CannedTuna on Flickr.

I have owned three cell phones in my life and I still have all of them. I got my first one in 2004 and it currently resides in my son’s toy box. My husband inherited my second phone and still uses it, and I still use my third. I have never recycled a cell phone.

Maybe it’s time.

My son almost never plays with my old cell phone. After all, he’s talking to his grandparents on the computer using Skype – he’s a modern child. If I want to get him something cool to play with…I should get an old rotary phone with a coiled cord!

Can I get cash for my phone?

So, I pulled out the old phone and started looking on-line at companies that pay cash for old phones, such as and Apparently my phone is too old as the model didn’t even come up on their search engines.

Out of curiosity though, I plugged in the model for my current phone and it’s apparently worth about $10, all I have to do is post it to them free of charge and they’ll give me the cash. That’s for a mediocre phone that’s almost four years old. Not bad!

Many of these phones will be refurbished and resold either domestically or in other countries. Others will be recycled for the metals and other components of value.

However, I’m obviously not going to get any cash for my old phone, which suits me fine. I just don’t want to see it in a landfill.

Can I donate my phone?

My old phone is working, but I think at this point, it’s beyond donation. Firstly, it is just a phone – there is no camera, no Apps, no games…just a phone. Secondly, it seems to have silly putty wedged into the keypad. Thirdly, if the online buyback programs weren’t going to give me money, I don’t think a charity will get any money for it.

However, if you have a working phone, consider donating it. Here are a few charities (below) that are worth looking into, but if you search ‘donate cell phone’ with your local region, you will likely come up with a whole list of local charities that have collection drives.

  • Hopeline from Verizon Wireless collects used working cell phones for women’s shelters
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence collects old cell phones and receive money from the sale of refurbished phones to help stop violence in the home.
  • Cell Phones For Soldiers connects soldiers and their families. You can set up a drive to collect working used cell phones.
  • Charitable Recycling allows you to run a cell phone collection drive for your charity of choice. Just collect the used cell phones, send them to Charitable Recycling and let them know who you would like the money sent to and they will credit the charity/fundraiser of your choice.

It’s the end of the line…time to recycle

I think the fate of my old phone will be recycling. Luckily even very old phones can be recycled and it’s very easy to do it.

Most retailers have collection boxes for old cell phones and their accessories these days. Don’t forget to bring in the charger and other unused accessories like ear-buds etc.  This can all be recycled!


  1. be sure you preserve any contacts, photos and other data you want.
  2. make sure your service and contract has been terminated for this phone.
  3. clear the phone’s memory – best to refer to your user manual and if you don’t know where that is, there are also online data erasing tools.
  4. Remove your SIM card – you have likely already put that in your new phone, but in case you haven’t best to take it out.

When you recycle your phone, the lithium-ion battery will be removed and recycled separately. Any working components will be removed from the phone and used to help refurbish other phones. The rest of the phone will be ground up and valuable components, such as precious metals, will be harvested for reuse.

How Stuff Works has done a video explaining the recycling process for cell phones:

I think I’ll probably drop my old phone off next time I’m in Staples. I want to help close the gap between people who know about recycling cells and those that have!

How about you? Is it time to clean out that junk drawer?

According to the EPA, if we recycled the 100 million cell phones that are taken out of service each year, we’d save enough energy to power 18,500 US homes for a year. Not to mention, we’d keep them out of the landfills.

If you’re having trouble finding a place to drop off your phones, you can look up recycling programs on both the Wireless Association’s website or the US EPA Plug-In Partners website.  Otherwise, as I said, most retailers and providers now recycle cell phones, so just ask next time you pass one.

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