Disposing of Old Cell Phones

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Q: Whenever I upgrade to a new phone, I usually end up sticking the old one in a drawer somewhere. I know I'm not supposed to just throw them out, but how can I get rid of them?

A: You're right, you shouldn't just toss out your old cell phones. And there's two reasons: First, while consumers are often careful to wipe their harddrives clean on their computers before replacing them, they forget that cell phones, too, contain private information. Second, they are harmful to the environment.

Your cell phone's battery -- and, sometimes, other components -- contains heavy metals that can contaminate the earth.

So you're left with three options: Recycle, donate or resell. But before you choose how to dispose of that old cell phone, remember to take a couple of minutes to remove any private information. Basic commands to delete the information stored in your phone often only delete references to the information, leaving it in the phone's operating system. Dig out that user's manual from the junk drawer or find information online that pertains to your particular make and model.

Recycling: The Environmental Protection Agency's eCycling website makes recycling your old phone as simple as possible. The page dedicated to phones links out to detailed drop-off and collection event information for all of the major cell phone makers.

Donating: Many organizations collect old cell phones for charitable purposes. A quick Google search will turn up plenty of options, but one popular service is Cell Phones for Soldiers, which accepts old cell phones, has them recycled and uses all of the proceeds to send calling cards to American troops overseas so that they can call home.

Reselling: You can keep your phone out of a landfill and get some money back in the process. There are a number of companies that will buy back your old electronics. One that is receiving some attention lately is MaxBack, an exchange program that allows you to trade in your unwanted gadgets for new ones. It also donates money to your local school or a nonprofit. Visit the site, enter your product information and, if the price is right, MaxBack will take care of the rest. You'll receive a box in the mail that you can send your goods back in and your account will be credited. Those credits can then be applied toward the purchase of new toys. 

Tools mentioned in this entry:

More questions? View the complete Toolkit archive.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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