How to Recycle a Mobile Phone

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 11, 2023

In a world that accumulates a lot of garbage recycling is important. This includes recycling electronic devices, which tend to break or sit idle once owners upgrade to new devices. Recycling helps reduce waste, allows for parts to be reused, reduces carbon footprint, reduces garbage that ends up in landfills and incinerations, and helps our environment remain healthy.

While many people know the benefits of recycling paper and plastic products, not many understand the benefits of recycling electronics. But recycling electronics allows people to use products to their greatest potential and saves on resources and energy. For example, when a computer breaks down, parts from the computer can be salvaged and recycled to make a new computer or other technology, thus reducing the energy and resources needed to make new parts. 

Another electronic device that can be salvaged is a cell phone. There are more than 100 million cell phones that are no longer active. Some are thrown away, others are left to collect dust in dresser drawers or on vanity tables. If all of those unused devices were recycled, there would be enough energy to distribute throughout 194,000 homes for the year.

That’s why it’s equally important to recycle electronics. You don’t even have to recycle your old device—donating it can help, too. If you still have a working electronic but have upgraded to something better and no longer use the original, donate your working electronic to someone else. You can donate them directly to someone in need, or you can find a program that will donate them on your behalf.

What Are Cell Phones Made Of?

Smartphones are made mostly of plastic, glass, and ceramics, with the parts being composed of around 60 raw materials. When broken down into individual pieces, you’ll find a display, circuit board, battery, microphone, and speakers. There are also several metals that are used in manufacturing cell phones, including:

  • Aluminum
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Gallium
  • Gold
  • Indium 
  • Iron
  • Palladium
  • Silver
  • Tantalum
  • Tin

Most of these elements are only present in small amounts but they can quickly add up, especially when you take into account how many phones are out there—which is estimated to be around seven billion — and that’s only counting the ones that are in use.

Are Cell Phones Bad For the Environment?

The answer to “are cell phones bad for the environment?” is a resounding yes. While there isn’t much energy used when operating one, producing a cell phone can result in a significant impact on the ecosystem. In fact, 85% of their emissions are the result of them being produced. Cell phones require many elements in their manufacturing cycle and these elements must be mined. Mining leads to waste.

Mining is also dangerous for those tasked with extracting the raw metals and elements needed to produce cell phones. Cell phones should be recycled—so that manufacturers can reuse the parts without needing to invest in new elements.

Can You Recycle Old Phones?

Many people have no idea that electronics can be recycled and question whether you can recycle a cell phone. Yes, you can recycle old phones. In fact, almost all the parts in your phone can be recycled.

Whether a cell phone is in working condition or not, many companies and programs exist for you to donate your phone. These programs may donate working phones to people in need, or they may recycle old phones for parts. Either way, it’s beneficial to recycle your old mobile device. 

But where can you recycle your old cell phone? Cell phone recycling can be done through drop-offs or by mail to several companies, including AT&T, Best Buy, Nokia, Samsung, and Staples. Most cities and towns have a recycling program that will accept your donations, making it easy to drop them off. However, for those living in smaller areas who may not have access to a recycling program, you can still mail them in.

Prepare Your Phone for Recycling

Before you recycle your old phone, it’s important to take some steps to make sure your phone is ready. These steps include.

  • Terminating the service on your old phone 
  • Reformatting or performing a factory reset on the phone’s memory 
  • Removing any additional cards such as the SIM card and microSD cards

Show Sources

CITA: “How to Recycle Your Mobile Device.”
Curiosity Guide: “What Materials Are Used to Make Smartphones?”
McMaster University: “Study shows smartphones harm the environment.”
National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP): “Recycle Your Cell Phone. It’s An Easy Call.”
RE:mobile: “What’s inside your mobile phone?”
Stanford University: “Frequently Asked Questions: Benefits of Recycling.”
Wonderopolis: “How Do Mobile Phones Affect the Ecosystem?”

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