Recycling Smartphones: Why Do It, And How

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When we purchase a new mobile phone, we often don’t know what to do with the old one, and the alternative of recycling doesn’t really come to our minds.

So, most of us simply drop the old device in a drawer without thinking about it too much, in spite of the fact that smartphones do hold some small, yet very precious resources, thanks to components made out of gold, silver cobalt and tantalum, just to name a few.

Producing these in large amounts has a big impact on the environment. So what can we do to minimize the damage? 

Also Read: Right To Repair: How Do We Make Tech More Sustainable?


Why Recycle An Old Phone Though?

A single smartphone is made up of more than a thousand individual components and contains more than 60 substances, of which about 40 are metals: copper, silicon, aluminum, iron, lithium, tin, lead, zinc, palladium and more. Some of these are present in microscopic quantities but they are still indispensable for the correct functioning of the device.

But our tech comes with a price, and, in recent years, a pretty high one: huge natural surfaces are being destroyed around the world to meet the ever-increasing demand for raw materials.

Cr. Pixabay

The results of mining for these materials are devastating for both the territory and its inhabitants: diseases, loss of habitat and biodiversity, water contamination and agricultural land, greenhouse gas emissions – all of these things are encountered in areas that are rich in natural resources.

Read More: These 20 Companies Create More Than Half of the World’s Plastic Waste

With that in mind, consider the fact that a smartphone is usually disposed of around just 18 months from purchase, in favor of a new device; according to experts, within the next 30 years we will have consumed an amount of mineral resources equal to what has been consumed since the Neanderthal era until today.

Mobile devices also contain mercury, among other materials, which is harmful to humans but someone who is qualified to recycle smartphones (and other devices), will know how to handle, dispose or recycle of harmful materials safely. 

How To Recycle Used Smartphones Correctly 

Electronic waste cannot be disposed of in the same way you’d dispose of your regular household waste – electronics usually have a crossed-our garbage bin symbol on the back or on the packaging, indicating this. Electronic waste cannot be thrown into any generic waste bin or in standard, separate collections (like paper, plastic, glass, etc.). It needs to be disposed of in specific locations, specifically designed for old appliances. 

Apple Expands Recycling Programs Thanks to Daisy the Recycling Robot and a New Lab

There are several ways to dispose of your smartphone correctly: you can go to shops and ecological islands responsible for the disposal of old phones and electronic waste, or you can even use the exchange route.
To find out about where the collection points closest to you are located, a simple Google search should do the trick. 

You can also enter your ZIP code into the Earth911 Recycling Search tool to see if there’s any recycling centers near you that accept electronic devices. 

Cr. Pexels

Depending where in the world you live, some countries have a decree that obliges traders to take back used smartphones without the users having to buy a new device. The shops who do this are also responsible for the disposal of the device, all free of charge to its former owner. 


Consider Donating

You might be surprised to find out that, in addition to maybe keeping your old device as a spare phone or giving it to a child in your family who wants to have a play, you also have the option of donating it.

Reconnected for example, recycles them or sends them to community organisations while Fonebank is a trade-in site that allows you to donate part or all of the proceedings and donate to WaterAid, Oxfam or the National Trust.

There are several charities out there that collect used smartphones and donate them to the less fortunate or reuse them for humanitarian projects in the Third World.


How To Donate Your Smartphone Safely

If you choose to go this route, you have to prep it a bit first before handing it in, just to make sure that all of your sensitive data has been wiped off it. 

To begin with, give it a good clean with products that do not contain ammonia. Back up your data and perform a factory reset – this will eliminate about 95% of your personal information still present on the phone.
Following this, write down the model number and remove all SD and SIM cards then do a final test, just to check that everything is working properly. After that, all you have to do is take it in for donation and be honest about its overall condition. 


Where Else To Trade In Smartphones Or Recycle Them For Cash

Most of the big-name manufacturers out there offer trade-in programs that also give credit towards the purchase of a new device: Samsung, Apple and Google among them, as well as Amazon

Mobile carriers also offer trade-in offers if you want to switch to a new device, such as T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and US Cellular

On the flipside, companies like GadgetGone, NextWorth and MaxBack purchase old smartphones to recover the precious materials inside them in order to resell them. 


What Else Can I Do?

One other option you have is to simply opt for a refurbished device, instead of purchasing a new one. This is the only way to decrease the current volume of electronic waste.

Fairphone 3 Is the Phone That Lets You Repair It – And Tries to Repair the Planet In Some Ways

Apple and Samsung are some of the companies that offer refurbished smartphones but Amazon also has plenty of them available.

Recycling and properly disposing of tech waste (and any waste, really), is very important to reduce pollution and waste of materials.

Also Read: Samsung Switches Its Plastic Packaging to Sustainable Materials

So, if you have used phones (or even tablets or computers) in your drawer somewhere, or a box, that you no longer use, try to not just throw them in the garbage.

Do what you can and go a little out of your way in order to get rid of them in a safe and sustainable way.


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Recycling Smartphones: Why Do It, And How

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