5 Ways to Recycle Your Cell Phone
Are you trying to figure out how to recycle your cell phone? I didn’t know either and I recycle everything I can get my hands on. I’m not joking. I will overflow a bowl with cereal just because that’s all that stands between me and recycling the bag. I recycle toilet paper rolls, old zip lock bags, and stuff you probably aren’t even supposed to recycle – like empty ketchup packets. But when it came to my old cell phones, I just let them sit in the drawer. One day, I told myself, I would need that phone as a back up for the day that I broke or lost my new phone. Neither has happened, but there my old phones sit. Then, there’s the issue of privacy. Can you ever be 100% sure every contact, picture and text message is completely removed? (I spoke to one woman who takes a hammer to her old cell phones just to be extra sure.) While smashing your old phone is always an option, I have a few alternatives to suggest.
Step 1 - Figure out how much your old cell phone is worth
Before anything, spend the 30 seconds it takes to figure out your phone’s value. You might be right. That old Nokia flip phone with missing buttons and a cracked screen probably isn’t worth anything. Chances are though, if the phone is less than 4 years old, and in decent condition, it’s worth more than you think. A quick search here
will give you a good baseline price. Usell.com
will show you a range of prices from companies that will buy your used cell phone from you at a better rate than a retailer like Best Buy but still pay less than selling it directly to a buyer via Craigslist.
It’s important to note the difference. Selling (or giving) your phone back to Verizon, AT&T or Apple is equal to trading your used car in at the dealership. It’s convenient, but you are giving up significant value by doing so. On the other hand, you can sell your phone to a recycler (the equivalent of a used car dealership) or to get the maximum money for your phone, you can sell it directly to a buyer via Craigslist or eBay. A good rule of thumb is, the more involved you are, the more you’ll make, while the opposite is also true.
Step 2 – Decide who gets your phone
Once you have a better idea of what your phone is worth, you can decide who gets it. There are a lot of companies that want your used cell phone. What separates them is how much they’ll pay you for it, how quickly you get paid and how easy it is to sell them your phone. All of your options fall into 5 categories:
1. No money back.
The Environmental Protection Agency created a national campaign called Plug-In to eCycling
to get more people to recycle their cell phones instead of throwing them away. As their website states, “Recycling cell phones helps the environment by saving energy and keeping usable materials out of landfills. Cell phones and PDAs are made of precious metals, copper, and plastics-all of which require energy to mine and manufacture.” To make it as easy as possible to recycle your cell phone, the EPA partnered with major manufacturers, retailers and wireless carriers. However, as much as I respect the EPA’s mission to encourage people to recycle their cell phones, there are greener ways to recycle them and there is money to make.
Nevertheless, a full list of drop-off / mail-in locations is available from the EPA website
2. Donate your phone to a cause.
Most phones retain some value. Organizations like Phone 4 Charity
accept old phones (and accessories) as donations instead of cash. When they receive your phone they assess its value and use that value to make a donation in your name to the 501 (c) (3 ) charity of your choice. The cell phones themselves are refurbished and sent to areas of the country and world where they are most needed. You can also donate your phone directly to an organization like Cell Phones for Soldiers
that send your phone to enlisted servicemen to make it easier for them to communicate with family while deployed overseas.
To donate your used phone to Phone 4 Charity just place the phone in a padded envelope and mail it
to them. Cell Phones for Soldiers has drop off locations that can found on their website
and a mailing address for sending them your used phone.
3. Trade-in your phone for store credit ($)
Stores like Best Buy and Apple make it easy to recycle your cell phone, but there are several things to be aware of. They usually compensate you with store credit instead of cash and the value they assign to your phone is typically 40-60% less than what you could get by selling it through other channels. They are banking on convenience. They know you are in the store to buy a new phone and they make you an offer on your old phone. The price they are offering seems good and getting paid is as easy as handing the phone over. What you are giving up for this convenience is about 1/2 of your phone’s worth.
At the time of publishing, Best Buy will buy your iPhone 3GS 16GB in good condition for $90 of store credit. Selling the same phone back to Apple
(who uses PowerON, a 3rd party service for its buy back program) pays $85 in store credit. And while this isn’t unique to Apple, what I find more offensive than their undervalued prices and only compensating people with store credit is that they advertise their recycling program as being free
to participate in.
While this is seemingly the most convenient option to recycle your cell phone, Apple obviously only accepts Apple products and Best Buy does not accept every cell phone. You can search the used phones they accept here
also have buy back programs, but again, be cautious.
4. Actual cash back but the ‘work’ of mailing your phone (in a pre-paid envelope.) ($$)
If losing approximately half of the value of your phone to a multi-national corporate conglomerate that will only pay you with currency that can only be spent at their store doesn’t sound too appealing, the good news is there are lots of other options. Services like Gazelle.com
and several other cell phone recyclers will buy your phone back with little to no hassle and will pay you in with cash. To find the best price for your phone you can search and compare USell.com
and SellCell.com for a list of prices.
Other than the price being offered for your phone, another factor to consider is the distance the service is to you since payment won’t be issued until they receive your phone. The process from one recycler to another is similar. Phones they accept vary as do the forms of payment they offer. Most provide payment via check and/or Paypal and some companies like Gazelle will give you the extra option of receiving an Amazon gift card.
Gazelle is currently paying $95 for the iPhone 3GS 16GB in good condition while HelloTotem.com is offering $106.13. Depending on where you are in relation to where you are mailing your phone, and what payment option you select, you can expect payment in 5-10 business days.
5. Sell it yourself. ($$$)
The outlets for selling used goods, cell phones or otherwise hasn’t changed in years. As of now, eBay and Craigslist are still your best bet, though you are obviously responsible for posting the ad, managing it, shipping the phone and answering any questions/issues that arise. A few mobile-centric marketplaces like EggDrop have appeared to offer an alternative to Craigslist as well. The benefit of selling your phone directly beyond the financial implications are the environmental ones.
The absolute greenest way to recycle your cell phone (or anything else for that matter) is to find someone who wants it as is. That way, the phone doesn’t need to be broken down or have materials extracted, it is just reused in its current form.
Prices vary on Craigslist but average between $150-180 for the iPhone 3GS 16GB in good condition. Selling your used phone should take between 1 and 3 days on average, depending on the selling price you chose, your phone’s condition and the scarcity of it in your area.
Tips for Selling Your Phone
Regardless of the method you choose to recycle your cell phone, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Include all accessories. The closer the phone is to the way you purchased it, the more it’s worth. If you have the original box, charger, battery, headphones, etc. include them when you recycle your cell phone. And when you buy your new phone, keep in mind that everything that comes with it is valuable.
- Prices rarely go up. The value of your old phone isn’t going up. New phones are released monthly and demand for your phone is only decreasing. If you are thinking about selling/recycling your phone, pick a method and do it.
- Wipe all data. The majority of buy back programs will delete the data on your phone when they receive it, but just to be safe – do it yourself before turning your phone in or selling it on Craigslist. In a future article we’ll have a step-by-step walk through that shows you how to thoroughly clean all data (text messages, pictures, songs, contacts, emails, videos, etc.) from your phone.
If you have used any of these services or methods, or have any other tips to share, we would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or contact us directly.