Old Cell Phones: Recycle, Resell or Reuse

recycling old cell phonesThink back to when you bought your current mobile device. Did you recycle the old cell phone?

If you’re like most cell phone users, then you upgrade your mobile phone every 18-24 months. Because of this constant turnover, it’s estimated that Americans have more than 500 million old cell phones sitting in drawers, storage boxes and landfills.

In spite of these large figures, when it comes to proper disposal, only about 2% of owners choose to recycle old cell phones. Why are the numbers for recycling cell phones so low? Most likely, it’s simply a lack of understanding about how to dispose of mobile phones properly.

Cell phones are a form of e-waste and can not be casually thrown away. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cell phones and accessories are made from valuable metals, copper, and plastics which require energy to extract and manufacture. Recycling cell phones reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves natural resources.

There are several eco-friendly options for disposing of an old cell phone. These include Recycling, Reselling or Reusing (aka donate your cell phone!).

Recycling Cell Phones

Many nonprofit organizations, service providers and cell phone manufacturers have programs which refurbish cell phones or recycle their components. A large number of recycled cell phones are able to be resold as refurbished phones. The first step is to contact the manufacturer—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc—to see if they will recycle the mobile phone for you. If they won’t take the phone back, then move on to a local retailer. Companies such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Sprint, Radio Shack and Staples sometimes have recycling drop off locations located right there in the store.

Resell Cell Phones for Cash

There are organizations that will buy your old mobile devices—if you have the right model. Often companies that offer cash for used cell phones are only looking for recent models and/or smart phones. You can also do a search on sites like Craigslist to see if your phone is in demand.

Reuse (Donate Cell Phones to Charity)

Reuse is the highest form of recycling. Organizations, such as the Charitable Recycling Program, collect old mobile devices to raise money for the charity of your choice. You can also choose to start a recycling program for your own charity. Little Caesars is currently sponsoring a program called “Cell Phones for Soldiers.” They are collecting cell phones which will raise money to provide calling cards for the troops to call home.

Mobile phones can have very serious human health and environmental impacts. cell phones contain lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic. If old phones are thrown into the trash, these toxic materials ultimately end up in landfills where it can seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater.

Of course, now that you know how to recycle an old cell phone, making the environmentally-friendly choice is a no-brainer. Remember when it comes to cell phones: Recycle, Resell or Reuse.

About Barbara Holbrook

Barbara lives in Southern California where she writes about technology, design and smart ways to go green.


  1. Timely article as I’m cleaning out and have several old cell phones that I’m ready to let go of. Question any tips on how I should handle the existing data on the phone before I donate it?

  2. Thanks for the useful article!
    Do not be indifferent, these children need your help:

  3. I agree that cellphones are dangerous when not properly dispose. I have an old cellphones and other gadgets too. This article help me figured out what to do about it . Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Thanks for sharing the article. Cellphones need to dispose of but the environment should be taken care of.


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