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How to responsibly recycle old and unused phones

You've already tried to breathe a second life into your old phone or tablet in an effort to stop it from heading to the junk pile, but alas, it's clearly on its way out. Let's make sure we give it a proper send-off to ensure it gets properly recycled.




1 hour

What You Need

  • Old phones

  • Packaging to ship if needed

  • Transportation to get to drop-off

Why recycle your phone at all? For one, your local trash collection is unlikely to accept e-waste. If it gets mixed in with normal garbage, you're just going to be polluting your own backyard with hazardous chemicals, and potentially poisoning your neighbors in the process. Globally, e-waste is a massive problem with significant environmental challenges. America routinely ships its e-waste off to developing countries where gadgets leach toxins into the soil and the nearby water supply. Eventually, workers attempt to extract whatever value they can from these discarded products using unsafe and polluting methods. As rabid tech fans, we have a responsibility to ensure the graceful transition of old tech into the circular economy.

How to recycle your phone

Once you've followed these steps, your old phones will get ground up into dust, subjected to a range for sorting methods, doused in extractive chemicals, separated with magnets, and incinerated. This is all in an effort to pull out valuable metals like gold, silver, palladium, and platinum. With enough phones going through this process, those metals can be used again without needing to engage in harmful mining for virgin materials.

Step 1: Wipe your phone. There's no sense in letting personal data leak just because you're trying to save the planet.

Step 2: Remove any peripherals, as wall as memory cards, SIM cards, cases, and batteries if you can. If the battery is removable, put tape over the contacts to avoid creating a circuit in transport.

Step 3: Find your closest drop-off point. Call2Recycle is a great resource for finding drop-off locations. Just punch in your postal code if the browser doesn't detect your location already. For added confidence, find recyclers with R2, RIOS, or e-Stewards certifications.

Step 4: If you've found a spot nearby, it's just a matter of getting out there and dropping off your phone or tablet.

Step 5: As an alternative, you can mail your old phone or tablet to be recycled. If the device manufacturer has its own mail-in recycling program, it can be ideal, since they'll be able to disassemble your old phone most efficiently.

Shipping instructions will vary by program, but you'll need a box and shipping label at least.

Step 6: Some phone recycling programs will pay for e-waste shipping, while others will require you to pay for shipping. Find the details, and then get that old phone out the door!

That's all there is to it! By taking ownership of the end of your phone's lifecycle, you're keeping valuable materials within reach of the mobile industry, and ensuring recycling processes are humane.

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Simon Sage
Simon has been publishing in tech since before the first iPhone was released. When he's not busy lighting a candle for the…
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