Uncluttering old cell phones

A recent survey conducted by Kelton Research for ecoATM reported that 57 percent of American device owners have idle cell phones in their homes, and 39 percent have at least two cell phones collecting dust at home.

If you (or someone you know) has an unused cell phone, the following is a simple, two-step process for getting rid of it:

Step 1: Remove all the data

You don’t want the next owner to get all the data stored on your phone: addresses and phone numbers, calendar appointments, messages, etc. After you’ve backed up all that data, you’ll want to remove it from your phone. You can find out how to remove it —

Step 2: Determine where you want to sell, donate, or recycle the phone

Newer phones can often be sold, even if they are broken or cracked. If your phone can’t be sold, it can certainly be recycled. You have a lot of choices, including:

  • Sell or give away to a friend or relative.
  • Sell in a general marketplace, such as eBay or craigslist.
  • Sell to one of the many online companies buying cell phones for a set price. You may not make as much money as you would selling in eBay, but it’s less hassle. I’ve used both GreenCitizen and Gazelle, and both worked out fine. (Suggestion: Don’t send Gazelle two phones in the same prepaid box, as I once did; it’s too easy for the paperwork to get mixed up.)
  • Sell at an ecoATM.
  • Use the trade-in/buyback program from your cell phone manufacturer or service provider: Apple, AT&T, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. Note that these will give you gift cards (or billing credits) for their own products and services, rather than cash.
  • Use the Amazon.com Trade-In Store.
  • Donate to one of the many groups that collect phones for good causes. These groups usually don’t give the phones away; rather, the phones are sold to a third party for reuse or recycling, and the proceeds are used to support the organization’s work. For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers says: “The money received from the recycling of cell phones is used to purchase international calling cards for active-duty military deployed overseas to connect with their friends and family back home.”
  • Donate to Goodwill
  • Recycle with cell phone manufacturers, cell phone service providers, retail outlets, etc. Most (if not all) of these will accept any phones for recycling, not just their own. You can find recycling sites through Call2Recycle, which has signed the e-Steward Pledge not to export e-waste to developing countries.

If you can’t erase the data

If you don’t have the charger for your phone, and can’t power it up to remove the data, you may want to go to your cell phone provider and see if that company can help.

Otherwise, you could use a service that will handle that for you, for a fee. For example, I’ve used GreenCitizen, located in the San Francisco Bay Area; I see that Green Tech Recycling does the same thing in Cleveland.

4 Comments for “Uncluttering old cell phones”

  1. posted by Claire on

    If you want to donate your phone, some cell phone retailers have boxes for specific causes, whether it’s to be donated to troops or to victims of domestic violence. I know that Verizon accepted my old cell phones for a donation like that (although I can’t remember which cause it was for).

    Also keep in mind that a working cell phone, even if it does not have a service contract on it, can always call 911. So if you have a relative who refuses to get a cell phone, you might consider giving it to them so that they can at least call 911 (like if they get into an accident on the road). I gave one old phone to my dad right before he went on a solo car trip for that very reason.

  2. posted by Julie Bestry on

    Excellent resources, Jeri. I’d heard of EcoATM but assumed there were none near me. It turns out there’s one (and only one) just 7 miles away. I still use a flip phone, and am in the habit of holding on to phones for so many years that by the time I do let go, I’ve long forgotten how to dump the data. Thanks for these great reminders.

  3. posted by Abigail Esman on

    The best thing you can do is donate a phone to one of the organizations and shelters who rehab them and give them to abused and battered women. You can save lives.

  4. posted by Harry on

    I just did this with three phones dating back to 2000. There’s a lot of good information online – more importantly, the info is easy to find and understand. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: you need your power cord. If your phone is out of power you can’t wipe it.

    1. To find out how to wipe your phone, search for your phone make & model (usually found on the battery if nowhere else) and a term such as “erase” or “wipe.” The result will be a page that tells you how to reset your phone to factory defaults, which will wipe all data. I found this easily even for my 14 year old phone.

    2. To find out how much your phone is worth, search for your phone make & model and a term such as “sell” or “resell.” None of my phones were on the most common I’ll Buy Your Phone site; eBay allowed me to see that the most valuable of my phones sold for $5. (Not worth selling!)

    3. I also researched some of the donation options. Cell Phones for Soldiers is the real deal, as is donating the phone to a shelter so it can be used to call 911. I have no info on the other options.

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