Welcome to GreenItUp, a database of common items, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle them.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Cell Phones

Also known as mobile phones, includes smartphones (PDA phones, iPhones, Blackberrys, Sidekicks).

According to the EPA, by 2005 (I couldn’t find more recent figures), an estimated 65,000 tons of waste was generated per year from cell phones. That makes sense considering pretty much everyone (and their moms, literally) have a cell phone and replace them every one to two years.

Keep your cell phones out of landfills. The EPA states, “in their circuitry, batteries, and liquid crystal displays, cell phones can contain toxics like arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, and lead. Their plastic casings have also been treated with brominated flame retardants.” And you know how much I hate brominated flame retardants.


Practically speaking… no.

Unless your appetite for a new phone every year or two is significantly less than most people, you may consider getting an extended warranty to make sure that phone lasts an additional year or two. If it breaks, instead of buying a new one, get it repaired. You may also consider replacing just the battery at that time, as battery life dwindles gradually. Taking into account donation and recycling options, plus discounts on new phones with service contract renewals, the extra money you spend on warranties or batteries may not be worth the environmental impact.

However, another option: buy used. Cell phones do have specific compatibilities with certain carriers, so if you plan on obtaining a friend’s old phone or buying a phone off eBay, first make sure it’s compatible with your carrier. It’s safer to just buy a phone that used to be on the same carrier as yours. For more details, read this guide on cell phone network compatibility (it’ll straighten out the GSM and CDMA and TDMA you’ve been hearing about). Also take into account warranties, as buying used electronics is usually not a best bet.


Donate. Depending on where you donate, the phone ends up recycled, refurbished, resold, or actually donated. Phones and proceeds usually go toward a charity. Before you donate, remove all possible information from your phone. Here are some links major phone/accessory/battery donation programs with convenient drop-off locations:

  • AT&T (Cingular) – Phones are recycled as part of the EPA’s Plug-In to eCycling campaign.
  • Sprint – Receive account credit or donate to Sprint PROJECT CONNECT.
  • T-Mobile – Phones are resold, refurbished, or recycled. All proceeds go to the T-Mobile Huddle Up program.
  • Verizon Wireless – Raises funds for HopeLine program by recycling or refurbishing phones.
  • Best Buy – Phones are recycled by ReCellular, who donates “dollars” to Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
  • Staples - Goods are recycled and a “large portion of the proceeds” are donated to the Sierra Club.

You can find other drop-off locations using earth911.org’s search engine.

You can google “donate cell phones” or “recycle cell phones” and you’ll find many programs for collecting phones and fundraising. These programs are often done through mail. As with all charities, please confirm their validity/legitimacy before you donate.

Sell it on eBay or hand it down to a friend. See note in “Reduce” section about buying used phones.


See section above for donation information. Most donation locations end up recycling non-functional phones.


Batteries contain toxic chemicals, so keep them out of landfills. As mentioned in the intro, the phones contain hazardous substances too. Pretty much every cell phone and electronics retailer has a battery and phone recycling program so you might as well drop off your phone and accessories while you’re at it. For more details, go to the “Reuse” section above and check out the notes on donating.

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