Green Lifestyle

Published on November 17th, 2020 | by Lilian Koiuchi


Can I sell my old cell phone?

We’ve all been there. Maybe our phone is getting a little long in the tooth. Maybe a few scratches and dents, maybe too small a screen for our needs, maybe just a few features short of optimum for the career we’ve chosen. There are many reasons one might want to get a new phone. But it creates a conundrum — what to do with that old phone? Is cell phone recycling an option? Or better yet, is there someone, somewhere, that might want your phone and be willing to pay for it?

There are 1.8 billion cell phones sold every year. It’s part of a global acceleration in personal tech, which has many benefits. The main drawback is e-waste (electronic waste), which is a major challenge. Think about it this way. Recycling an aluminum can is pretty straightforward–it melts down to become re-formed as a new aluminum can. If you’ve ever opened the motherboard on a computer or the battery compartment of a cell phone, you’ll quickly realize that “end of life disposal” for electronics is far more complicated. To add to the challenge, the components of many electronics can be pretty toxic. There are heavy metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), plastic, glass, wood, plywood, rubber, and so much more. There’s lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and a whole bunch of flame retarding chemicals. This challenge has led to an environmental justice concern, as well, with many e-waste recycling facilities sending the electronics to developing nations for recycling, which might take the form of children dangling wires into acid baths to evaporate rubber and plastic off of copper wires (mmm…fumes!), and simple incineration of the non-valuable parts (mmm…more fumes!).

The good news

Cell phones 100% should be recycled, and thankfully, it can be done pretty easily AND you can directly benefit, too. More on that in a moment.

Additionally, there is a really nice positive effect when cell phones are recycled. According to the EPA, recycling all the phones disposed of in the US alone every year would save roughly 4.5 million pounds of copper, almost 100,000 pounds of silver, 9500 pounds of gold, and more than two tons of palladium.

Among the other benefits of cell phone recycling:

  • less pollution of soils, groundwater, and air
  • more access to technology for developing nations (this means kids in poorer countries get a chance to learn with modern technology)
  • you can earn money!

My boss has an old iPhone 5S, and he suggested I research some options for best ways to dispose of it. I found cell phone recycling through SellCell, and punched in some numbers.

For something we were actually just discussing the other day about trying to find someone who could use this old phone, which would have required posting to Craigslist and hoping someone would give it a good home (and not flake, as Craigslisters are pretty good at), finding a way to simply sell this phone online in one easy step and actually make money on it is stellar!

This website is great–it’s basically a marketplace where buyers can bid on your phone based on the demand they have for that model. So you’re assured of getting a good price, and since those companies are willing to pay, it’s more than likely they’ll make sure that phone finds another life. Or lives! According to SellCell, cell phones can serve several owners, and last on average about 9 years!

How do you know what happens next?

SellCell says, “SellCell only lists buyers that adhere to strict environmental standards and in every case uphold the fight to reduce electronics waste across America and the world.” That means that all of the buyback partners on SellCell handle, process and recycle electronics properly; where possible they will resell the phones or refurbish them so they can have another useful life.  In a small number of cases where phones cannot be repaired / refurbished, the phones will carefully be broken down to parts that can be used in other devices.

Before you jump on this and sell your old phone, make sure you wipe your data, back up your device, reset it, and remove your SIM, SD, or memory card. Googling instructions on how to do this with any particular device usually provides a step by step tutorial.

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About the Author

Lilian appreciates everything sustainable and works to help make the world a better place, one step at a time! Lily does freelance writing and contributes to sustainable blogs under a variety of pseudonyms as requested by her employer!

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