How to Recycle an Old Cell Phone

How can you get rid of an old phone and ensure that its toxic components don’t end up in a landfill? Consider recycling it through one of these free and easy services.
By Megan Hirt
June 19, 2007
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In a drawer, on a dusty shelf: Somewhere in your home, you probably have a graveyard of old electronics. At the least, you likely have an old cell phone, which is the electronic device being retired most frequently, according to Consumers Union.

More than 750 million cell phones lie unused in the United States, and the small devices can have big effects on our health if, when evicted from the drawer, they are disposed of in landfills instead of recycled properly. Like computers and televisions, cell phones contain lead and mercury, two elements that cause damage to the brain and peripheral nervous system if they enter our water supply via landfills.

So how can you get rid of an old phone and ensure that its toxic components don’t end up in a landfill? Consider recycling it through one of the following free and easy services. 

Best Buy
Most Best Buy stores have recycling kiosks located near the front entrance where shoppers can drop off cell phones, pagers, ink cartridges and batteries to be recycled in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s electronic waste standards.

Call to Protect
Proceeds from the sale of donated cell phones go to organizations fighting domestic violence, and phones that can be reused are given to domestic violence survivors. You can mail your phone and its accessories to Call to Protect, or find a nearby drop-off location. Donated phones are tax deductible. 

The Trio You choose a charity to receive the value of your unwanted phone from a list of more than 500 organizations. If you would like to receive a donation acknowledgement from your chosen charity, you must include your contact information when registering on the site. If you prefer not to send a phone yourself, you can take it to a drop-off at any Staples or FedEx Kinko’s in the United States. A new division of the, this service will actually buy your old phone, and for each phone it purchases from the public, plants a tree in Africa, Central or South America, or in areas of U.S. national parks damaged by wildfire. This service pays for used cell phones in the form of gift certificates to businesses such as Circuit City and Blooming Lotus, an organic body care shop. Or you can have the value of your phone credited to a free PayPal account.

Follow simple registration steps on, and to generate a form that you print and mail in with your phone and its accessories, along with a free shipping label. Phones that have resell value are cleared of all data, refurbished and sold at a low price throughout developing areas in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Western Asia. This is how each service gets the money for your phone that it passes along to you or your chosen charity. Phones that have no resell value are recycled under a no-landfill policy and in accordance with EPA electronic waste standards. The gang can only pay for working phones, but they can recycle all mobile devices, so send in whatever you have.

Remember to disconnect service before donating your cell phone to any of the services mentioned above. It’s also a good idea to remove all private data from your unwanted cell phone, although the services will do that for you.

Have you recycled an old cell phone or electronic device? Share your experience by posting a comment. 

Megan Hirt is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

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Post a comment below.


Chanel N
5/20/2009 2:33:50 AM
This advocacy can help in preserving our Mother Earth. Cell for cash sounds like a good idea. Cell for Cash is not a typo, but a service. Their website,, is a cellular phone recycling service, where you get a cash reward for handing in your old cell phone. Some phones go for over $100, about the size of most small quick payday loans. Other companies have sprung up that have similar services, and it isn't surprising – cellular phones add up to about 65,000 tons of waste per year. Think of it as installment loans for the earth if you use Cell for Cash to recycle your old phone.

nancy frederick
10/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
My immediate concern is the disposal of OTC and prescription medications. A request to donate containers for use in third world countries prompted a call to my drugstore. I was told that flushing is no longer advised but "wrap pills and put them in the garbage". Whoopie!Anyone concerned enuf to see this knows how ridiculous that is.Believe that drug companies should come up with a way for the public to dispose of or neutralize old drugs. Any help here ??Nancy - Oct.13,2007

Dell Thomason
6/29/2007 12:00:00 AM
We have a cell phone mostly for insurance against getting stranded somewhere on the road. It did happen to me once when I was going out of town to a radiation treatment early in the morning and didn't know that the highway had become icy between the two towns and was impassable. I was able to (1) reschedule my treatment, (2) let my family know I was okay, (3) let a fellow traveler borrow it, as he was en route to his work and was going to be very late. He didn't have a cell phone! Also, sometimes our land line is down, and we can call the phone company on the cell phone. If family is traveling to meet at a designated place and somebody gets lost, they can check in and get directions. These are worth the cost. We don't use a plan with a company. There are too many gimmicks. We bought a phone at Wal-Mart which just uses the prepaid minutes on a phone card. And as we don't use the call phone to chat, we have been most pleased with the setup. I think even with making the occasional call when on the road, we never spend more than $5-10 a month--much less than buying a plan. Don't want to be without it! When we are traveling and family needs to contact us, it's taken care of. Btw, the driver does NOT talk on the phone! That's the job for the person riding shotgun.

6/26/2007 12:00:00 AM
A cell phone has become as common, if not more, than computers in our society. It would be difficult for me to run my business without either and/or both of these business tools.Gosh, ECooper, I still do not have a cell phone and until I retired, I did not have a credit card, either. Now that I am retired, I am a Network Administrator for the disabled (blind, deaf, etc.), elderly, and their supportive friends and family, a charity type organization. I find it easy to run at least a charity type business with just a computer. E-mail is the best tool, too, since I have a very bad time remembering the spoken work correctly but find it easy "to get it right" with the spoken word. Too, I have noticed that almost all of the use of the cell phone in public is for personal calls rather than business calls. It is not hard to know this as those who are talking in public on the cell phone talk and laugh at the top of their voice as if there is one one else around.Of course, I am an old dinosaur that finds these new fangled gadgets a toy rather than a tool and that their promotion is for the greedy and for the needy. It is the same for the computer, too, when it is used as a toy and not as a tool. Why else is there so much spam and so much porno on the Internet?

E B Cooper
6/26/2007 12:00:00 AM
A cell phone has become as common, if not more, than computers in our society. It would be difficult for me to run my business without either and/or both of these business tools.Another drop-off location for all your old cell phones is your local Police Dept. they donate them to needy/battered husbands and wifes, you may want to consider this option.

Julie Ann
6/25/2007 12:00:00 AM
Another option is This is the website for Secure The Call Foundation. They take phones, inspect them, clean them, then reprogram them to be used as free 911 phones. They are given to seniors, crossing guards, neighborhood watch groups, etc. They have had a big demand and need more phones. Just another option! (P.S. - on their website, you can print out pre-paid mailing labels.)

6/22/2007 12:00:00 AM
Cell phones. God, I hate them. And it seems that when you want to change services "they" always tell you that you need a new phone, because of updates on the systems, better new services, yada, yada, yada. My hubby has to have one for his work but they wont pay for it. I hate that and the fact that you cant keep using the old cell phone you allready had. I think its a conspiracy that goes along with this "throw away generation" of everything we buy these days. I had one temporarly but its been sitting in my truck for the past 5 years and I'm hoping its melted by now!!!

mary lenahan
6/20/2007 12:00:00 AM
I have a recycling contest every year in my school. Students and teachers bring in their old cell phones and ink cartridges. I box them up and send them to a company called We get points which can be converted into money or can be traded in for computer or playground equipment. In three years, we have made almost $2,000!! Its a no-brainer fundraiser for a school or organization. I think everyone should recycle their cell phones!Mary

Kathryn Johnson_2
6/20/2007 12:00:00 AM supports school programs, by collecting cell phones and used ink cartridges.

MARGALO Ashley-Farrand
6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
I recycle my phones through The Body Shop, where they are refurbished and given to victims of domestic violence, in order that they have a phone with them at all times in an emergency.

Glenda Cook
6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
Another place to dispose of an old cell phone is to give it to theInternational Myeloma Foundation12650 Riverside DriveSuite 206North Hollywood, CA 91607-3421Proceeds are used to fight Multiple Myeloma. Thank youGlenda Cook

6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
I send recycled computer/copier cartridges and old cell phones to a place that pays a local animal refuge, Rikki's Refuge, for the items. The money is then used to help old, abandoned, abused animals that no one wants to have a better life for the rest of their days. The Refuge is totally funded by donations and runs on a VERY small budget but saves and or finds homes for hundreds of animals each year. They have eighteen species and around 1000 animals at any give time. It is a great place and they recycling is a double winner. Rikki's gets the money and the environments gets the help.

6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
HAHAHA! The best way to recycle cell phones is to not own one. It is also the safest way, too. Almost as many automobile accidents are cause by inattention by the driver on a cell phone as drunk driving. Right after that comes the mah shaving and the woman putting on makeup. Thank God that the driver with smoke in his eyes is declining with few smokers on the road.THe question I have is, "Who needs cell phones in the first place?". My wife has one and has never had to use it while on the road. Our kids have one and use it to call saying, "We are about 10 minutes from your house, is it ok if we drop in for a while?". I depend on e-mail for my primary communications, I find that I have a better memory for the written word than I do for the spoken word.Oh well, I do have a cabinet full of old computer parts, anyone want to trade?

Leslie Booher
6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
Verizon takes them back. If you get a new cell phone and don't leave the old one there, they charge you an extra $10. At least that gets rid of the old phone.

Lisa Laventure
6/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
Thanks for these wonderful suggestions. I feel guilty now that I have just thrown them out in the past. I am so glad to have your web site and e-mails now.

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