Green Living

e-Cycling: How to Recycle Your Old Mobile Phone

e-cycling your cell phone is good for the environment

e-Cycling old cellphones and other electronic devices keeps e-waste out of landfills and takes pressure off our natural resources. But how do we go about recycling our old cell phones and electronic devices?

Why e-Cycling is Necessary

According to the EPA, 125 million cellphones are discarded by Americans every year, generating 65,000 tons of e-waste that ends up on landfill sites around the country. The e-waste that accumulates on landfills not only takes up limited landfill space, it also presents other problems to the environment that could pose a risk to human health.

Mobile phones contain toxic materials, including lead, cadmium, barium and mercury, which render them hazardous when discarded irresponsibly. When cellphones are disposed on landfill sites, these toxins have the potential to leach into soils, where they could contaminate groundwater and other water sources.

Most of us own at least one mobile phone, which we tend to replace with an upgraded phone every year or two. Consequently, many of us have at least one old, unused phone lying around. These obsolete cell phones typically get tossed in a trashcan and end up on a local landfill site.

However, like other forms of e-waste – such as computers, laptops, and tablets – mobile phones can be recycled, in a process known as e-cycling. Handsets can either be repaired or refurbished and put back into use, or they can be disassembled and the various components reused in cellphone repairs, or even manufacture. Other materials, such as plastic casings and metal components – including precious metals, can be recycled and used elsewhere.

Benefits of Recycling Mobile Phones

There are multiple benefits to recycling your cellphone:

  • By reusing recovered metals, it helps to reduce the demand for mined metals
  • By keeping cellphones out of landfill sites it helps prevent groundwater from becoming contaminated with leached toxins
  • It helps reduce greenhouse gases emitted during the production of cellphones and cellphone components

With the growing demand for iPhones, sales of the eagerly awaited iPhone5 are expected to exceed 50 million units by the end of the year. As 50 million cellphone users scramble for the latest iPhone, it is anticipated that a similar number of old phones will become obsolete and it is feared that they may simply be discarded. By recovering the gold and other precious metals from these 50 million handsets we could reduce the demand of these mined metals by 14 tons, and in so doing, prevent 20 million tons of mining waste being generated from mining operations according to the environmental watchdog Earthworks.

Online E-cycling

E-cycling facilities are becoming more and more common, and are becoming increasingly more convenient in efforts to encourage cellphone users to take advantage of these programs. If you can’t find an e-waste recycling facility near you, you can search for an online e-cycling program.

Earthworks have recently launched their new Recycle My Cell Phone website, where cellphone users can recycle their used handsets online. The website will help you find a drop off point near you, or will let you send your old phone in for recycling by post. If you collect 20 or more handsets they will even cover the cost of postage. You could also set up a cellphone recycling initiative at your school, college, or business, to encourage others to participate as well.

Get a Gift Card with Amazon’s Trade-in Program

Amazon offers a trade-in program for electronic gadgets in good working order, and will accept a variety of electronic goods ranging from Wi-Fi routers, PlayStation accessories, to video games and DVDs, and everything in-between. What’s more, they’ll give you a gift card in exchange for your unwanted electronic items (and other unwanted stuff too) which you can use to buy something more useful. Just head over to Amazon’s trade-in webpage to find out what items they will buy from you. They will supply you with a free shipping label, so all you have to do is package your stuff up and drop off at your nearest U.P.S. mailbox. Once they have received everything and checked it is in working condition they will send you an Amazon Gift certificate to the value of your unwanted stuff. Not too shabby a deal for stuff you didn’t want anymore. You can also get good deals on refurbished devices, saving yourself some hard earned dollars.



Another new innovation is the ecoATM, developed by ecoATM of San Diego, California with support from the National Science Foundation. The ecoATM is a unique, fully automated robotic controlled kiosk that allows cellphone users to trade in their old devices for recycling or reimbursement.

Using specially developed artificial intelligence, ecoATM kiosks are able to differentiate between various electronic consumer products and determine a market value. If users accept the value assigned they may opt to receive cash or store credit for trading in their unit. Alternatively, they can choose to donate all or a portion of the amount compensated to one of the charities listed.

The ecoATMs typically recycle about three-fourths of the cellphones collected back into use, while the remaining handsets are sent to e-waste recycling facilities to ensure that rare earth elements are reclaimed and hazardous toxins are kept out of landfills.

With all these e-cycling options available, the next time you upgrade your phone do the right thing and recycle your old phone responsibly. Better still, spread the word, and try to encourage others to do the same.

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