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Recycling Old Cell Phones

Earlier this summer I lost my cell phone in the river while kayaking, and we used this as an opportunity to switch to a different carrier. Since Jason’s phone doesn’t work with the new carrier, we’re going to recycle it, along with another phone that I’d been meaning to recycle for almost two years. I put it off for so long because there are so many options, and I wanted to be sure that the place I chose was recycling it properly. Electronics contain all kinds of toxic wastes—which is why it’s important to recycle them rather than throw them away—but they’re often shipped overseas to be trashed or recycled in ways that poison the surrounding area.


So what are my options?

Department of Public Works

  • Many towns, including Cambridge, recycle cell phones. Keep in mind that they’re collected at the town’s drop-off center, not with the regular recycling.


  • Best Buy recycles any electronics that consumers bring in to the store—for free.
  • Staples collects cell phones and other small electronics at store service desks.
  • Office Depot sells Tech Recycling boxes ($5, $10, or $15) for any electronic devices.


  • Verizon’s Hopeline program refurbishes working phones for victims of domestic abuse and recycles non-working ones. Retail stores have drop-off boxes, and the Verizon site offers a postage-paid label to mail it in. They’ll accept phones from any carrier.
  • AT&T’s Reuse and Recycle Program resells working phones to buy phone cards for soldiers and recycles non-working ones. Retail stores have drop-off boxes, and AT&T customers can request a postage-paid envelope.
  • T-Mobile and Sprint also collect old cell phones for refurbishing/recycling.


  • LG is really getting into this, with a high school contest and many ways that people can get postage-paid packaging for any phone.
  • Motorola recycles any phones; you can print a postage-paid label.
  • Sony EricssonNokia, and Samsung collect only their own phones for recycling. If you enter your name and address you can get a postage-paid envelope.

Third Parties

  • Call2Recycle collects cell phones and rechargeable batteries through the mail as well as at drop-off locations. You may be surprised at how many are near you! Just within a mile of me I’ve got Economy Hardware, Radioshack, and the Apple Store.
  • Greenphone (formerly Flipswap) either pays cash or plants a tree in exchange for your cell phone.

Electronics Takeback is a good source of more information on recycling any electronics, and the EPA has some great lists of recyclers, as well as info on how to prepare your phone properly for recycling. (1. Cancel your contract. 2. Delete your personal information. 3. Remove the SIM card. 4. Drain the battery.)

Unfortunately, out of this whole list, it looks like Samsung and Call2Recycle are the only ones certified by e-Stewards, the most reputable third-party certification program. Since our phones aren’t Samsung phones, we’ll be going with Call2Recycle. And with so many drop-off locations around, I won’t even have to mail the phones in. I would rather use the manufacturers, since we should be encouraging them to consider the whole life cycle of their product, but I think it’s more important to know that the phones are recycled properly.

One year ago: Cat Litter.


Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time September 2, 2010 at 9:03 pm

[…] Tuesday I talked about recycling our old cell phones. This came about because of a fall cleaning of our office, and the biggest piece of electronics […]

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time January 25, 2011 at 10:16 pm

[…] shared ways to recycle some random things, like cell phones and inkjet cartridges. But don’t you wish there was one place where you could find out where […]

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