How to Recycle Cell Phones

An Overview on Recycling, Selling or Donating Mobile Phone

Most of us are guilty of trading up for newer, more flashy cell phones earlier than is probably necessary. The call of cooler software, faster connections, and hardware improvements lures us in every time. Which makes the problem of old mobile phones one with which many consumers struggle. And with good reason, given the hazards posed by old mobile phones:

  • Electronics can be composed of 1,000 or more chemicals each, along with various types of plastic, glass, metal, and so on. Most contain toxic heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and lead. They can also be made with copper, silver, gold, palladium, platinum, and other valuable materials.
  • Difficult to take apart, especially when small, the recycling process can be quite a challenge.[1]
  • The number of cell phones sold worldwide every year is estimated to be well over 1 billion units.[2]
  • Many new and old cell phones contain brominated flame retardants (BFRs) which are serious environmental hazards.[3]

Donating, selling, and recycling cell phones

For the green cell phone user, the solutions for recycling old phones are many, thank goodness, making it easier than ever to find a way to keep your mobile toxics out of the environment for good:

  • Determine whether to repair first:The temptation to get the latest, greatest cell phone is strong. However, if your phone still functions with a few glitches, you may want to consider repairing it instead of giving it away or donating it.
  • Choose between donating, selling or recycling:If your mobile still works well, donating it to a nonprofit you can support is a great way to give it a longer life. You may also be able to sell your cell phone for cash if there is still a good deal of useful life in it. If, however, it is not repairable, look for recycling facilities that will recover the materials for reuse.
  • Wipe your personal information:Before sending your phone along for recycling, be sure to clear the mobile’s memory of your personal information. ReCellular has a Data Eraser you can use for this purpose.

Donate used mobile phones

Schools, women’s shelters, environmental organizations, and other nonprofits can often benefit from receiving donations of old electronics, including mobile phones. In many cases, they can use the electronics for their own purposes, pass them on to those they are trying to help, or sell them to fund their operations. We’ve got a whole list of cell phone donation organizations to which you can send your used mobiles in our recyclers database.

Recycle mobile phones for cash

Generally speaking this is how you recycle phones for cash:

  • Choose a cell phone recycler close to your home that you can trust. Here is a list of mobile phone recyclers who’ll take your used handheld for cash.
  • You search the provider’s database of cell phone models they will accept, after which they’ll estimate the value of that phone based on the age and condition it is in.
  • You mail the mobile phone into the recycler; sometimes they’ll pay the postage, sometimes they will not.
  • A few days after they have evaluated your phone to verify the model and condition, you’ll receive a payment from the cell phone recycler, either by check or electronically.

Recycle cell phones

When there is no way to extend the life of old mobile phones, recycling is a great option. It turns obsolete and broken materials into useful new products which saves energy, resources, landfill space, and more.

  • Mail-in programs: Many manufacturers and cell phone provides provide mail-in recycling programs - check our general e-waste recycling resources for a    list of companies participating in this kind of collection.
  • Retail drop-offs: Some retail stores like Staples and Best Buy will allow you to drop off your used mobile with them for recycling. Give your local store a call to confirm or check our list for participating retailers.
  • Municipal e-waste collection: Other public mobile phone recycling programs exist to pick up the slack where there are no other recycling options. Check with your municipal solid waste management office to find out if they have a program for collecting electronic waste.

Ethical e-waste recyclers

Regardless of whether you choose to donate or recycle your used cell phone, choosing an organization that can ethically handle your e-waste is important. The bulk of all e-waste is sent overseas where the components are dismantled (sometimes smashed apart) by people (often children) without proper personal protection making less than 25 cents an hour.[4] Without safe disposal regulations, these countries are often saddled with the toxic burden that comes with electronics recycling. To ensure that you’re not contributing to overseas pollution problems, look for recyclers that use responsible recycling methods.

  • The Basel Action Network (BAN) is an international environmental organization working to reduce toxic manufacturing and disposal. 
  • Alternatively, you can ask any potential recyclers a series of questions to determine whether they use safe and fair e-waste handling methods. Check out E-cycling Central’s list of questions



1 A Dazzling Industry With a Dark Side. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition:

2 Cell phone recycling. (2009, July 14). Retrieved June 28, 2010, from The Encyclopedia of Earth:

3 EU Legislators Advise Review of PVC, BFR Use in Electronics. (2010, June 2). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from PCWorld:

4 E-Waste & Recycling Laws - Protecting Taxpayers, our Environment and Public Health while Creating an Incentive for Greener Design. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition:

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