Recycling Your Mobile Phone – Why and How?

It is estimated that, in the UK alone, there are 40 million unused electronic gadgets laying around in homes gathering dust. The Royal Society of Chemistry conducted a survey which suggested that around half of homes have at least 1 unused device, and 45% have up to 5 unused devices.

While not all of these will be mobile phones (think laptops, tablets, fitness trackers, etc.,) if even a quarter are, that is still around 10 million phones doing nothing, which could be reused or recycled. If you think you are one of these gadget-hoarding households, and you want to reuse or recycle your old phones, here are some ideas how you can do that.

Why We Should Recycle Phones

Mobile phones, and particularly smartphones, contain several conflict and rare-earth elements, including gold and indium. As many as 6 of the elements found in almost all phones are at risk of running out within the next 100 years, unless new and currently unknown sources are found. If we can reduce our need for these elements, they can remain available for longer for use in other critical electronics such as medical devices.

Recycling phones, just like recycling anything else, takes a little bit of effort on our, the consumers, part. But unlike other types of recycling, recycling phones can also result in a bit of extra cash in your pocket, depending on how you choose to recycle.

Give Your Phone to a Friend or Family Member

Every phone given away to be used by someone else potentially means one less new phone being produced and bought. Gifting your unwanted phone to a friend or family member is just about the easiest way to recycle.

This obviously depends on whether there is someone you know in need of a phone, how current your old phone is (I doubt many of your friends want your old Nokia 6210) and how well it works. However, finding out if anyone can make use of your unwanted phone is as easy as writing a quick post on Facebook or making a few phone calls.

If none of your circle need your old phone, but you still like the idea of passing it on for free, you can advertise it on places like Freecycle, Freegle or Facebook Marketplace.

Give Your Phone to Charity

Although most charities no longer accept electronics, due to the possible safety problems involved, many charities welcome donations of unwanted mobile phones, even if they are not working.

Most charities will pass mobile phones on to phone recycling companies in exchange for small payments which, in bulk, can make a huge difference to their charitable earnings. Pop into your local charity shop and ask if they accept mobile phones if you are not sure.

Some charities have grabbed hold of this idea fully. Oxfam, for example, have a system called Fonebank for people wanting to donate their handsets. You tell the service which phones you have, they tell you how much they value the phones at, and you can choose to donate 100%, 50%, etc., to Oxfam, while keeping some for yourself. If you have 5 or more handsets to donate, the charity will even arrange for them to be collected from you.

phone charity

Sell Your Phone Online

There are numerous services online which will buy your old phone. The most popular in the UK include Mazuma Mobile, Envirofone and Music Magpie. This is probably a more viable recycling option if you have a fairly recent phone, in good condition. The older the phone, or the worse the condition, the less you will be offered. It is hardly worth the effort of ordering the packing materials, sending the phone off, and waiting for them to check it, if they are only going to pay to £5 or £10. You might as well give it to charity…

All of these companies refurbish most of the working phones they buy, and then resell them through an internal or external outlet, so this can certainly be classed as recycling as far as we are concerned (one used phone bought means one less new one being produced, in theory).

In many cases, you will get more money by selling your good condition phone through eBay or Facebook Marketplace, especially if you have the original packaging, cables, etc., but it takes more effort and there is no guarantee it will sell at all or for the price you want.

You can easily check the best prices being offered for your old phones using a service like Compare and Recycle.

Sell Collectable Phones

If you have a very old phone that you can’t sell through one of the methods above, it is worth checking to see if it is a collectable. Over the past several years, many phones have become quite collectable, a trend that will only increase as more years pass.

For a phone to become collectable, it usually has to have been unique or ground-breaking in it’s time. Handsets such as the famous Nokia 8110 “Matrix” phone, or the HTC Dream (the first commercially available phone to use Android), in their original box, with their original chargers, etc., have the best chance of selling for good money. That said, unless you have a mint condition Motorola DynaTac 8000 from the 1980’s, don’t expect more than a few hundred pounds.

Ebay is probably the best place for this, although if you have a truly unique old phone, you could consider approaching a local auction house to see if they are having a collectables or vintage sale soon.

Trade-In Your Phone

If you are planning to upgrade from a recent phone to a brand new one, ask about any trade-in deals your local phone store has going. You will likely be offered a better trade-in price than the selling price you would get from one of the phone buying sites. Many of the big phone retailers offer trade-in deals continuously, including Carphone Warehouse, as do phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple.

This certainly classes as recycling in our eyes, as most traded-in phones are shipped out to be sold in developing countries such as those in Africa and South America. Carphone Warehouse says:

“Once you’ve traded in your device, we pass it on to a third party so it can be re-used. Handsets are checked, all the data is wiped and most are then sent to developing markets where mobiles phone use is growing rapidly.”


Before You Recycle Your Phone

Before you give your phone away, pass it on to charity or sell it, you should always wipe it of any personal data. In most cases a simple factory data reset should be enough, but you might also want to check that nothing is stored on any MicroSD card inserted, and no SIM card is still in the phone.

  • On Android, you can find reset in the main Settings, usually in a section of its own, but sometimes in a General Management section. Look for the Factory data reset option and follow the instructions.
  • On iPhone, you can find the reset tools in Settings > General > Reset. Choose “Erase all content and settings”. You will need to enter your passcode if you have one set on the phone.
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Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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