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What to Do with that Old Cell Phone

old cell phones

April 10, 2018

There is nothing more exciting than receiving the gift of a new phone—the shiny, unscratched screen; the wonderful new features that your old device didn’t have; and not having to delete any apps because you now have decent storage space. Or what about a brand-spanking-new tablet? One that does not take forever to download something from Wi-Fi. The truth is we jump for joy with every new device upgrade.

But what becomes of the phones left behind? Well, some people like to keep their old tech for sentimental reasons—I still have my first flip phone. Still, others keep their devices because they simply don’t know what to do with them. Most know that throwing them in the trash is not a good idea; so many people end up with hordes of unused tech cluttering up their homes. But why is it so bad to send your device to the local landfill?

The reason is that electronic waste, otherwise known as e-waste, contains many toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium. Not only are these elements harmful to the environment, they can be harmful to those who come into contact with them. As a result, they need to be handled very carefully. This can be both expensive and time consuming. And because of the constant desire for new and better tech, more and more e-waste is being produced every year. This has led to the conundrum of how to get rid of it all—and safely.

Currently, a lot of e-waste is being exported to other—mostly third-world—countries, in spite of regulations designed to prevent this very scenario. The Basel Convention treaty of 1989 was created in an attempt to reduce the transfer of e-waste from developing countries to less developed ones. And this was before the incredible explosion in cell phones and home computers. Unfortunately, a lot of e-waste is still ending up in countries like China, India, and Ghana.

Another issue most people don’t consider is information security. If a hard drive is not erased prior to disposal, someone could potentially recover the information contained within. This information could include Social Security numbers and private financial data like credit card numbers, or even classified government and military information. Sensitive U.S. security information has been discovered on discarded hard drives in Ghana.

It is estimated that over the next couple of years, the amount of e-waste will increase by 17 percent. Yet in 2016, only about 20 percent of all e-waste was recycled. Most electronic waste still ends up in landfills. It is not a hopeless situation, however. Here are several suggestions of how to deal with old tech:

  • First, and most importantly, do not throw it in the trash—and not just because of the harm to the environment. There are actually valuable metals that can be recycled.
  • Learn how to fix broken gadgets yourself. Unbelievably, some problems that crop up with devices are actually easy to fix. Many manuals and how-to videos are available to those who might like to take up the challenge.
  • Pass it on. You may no longer have any need for your device, but it might be useful to someone else. If it still works relatively well, why not hand it over to a family member or friend? You can also donate it to a charity in your local community. An organization right here in Kansas City, Connecting for Good, supplies donated technology to low-income communities.
  • Find a good recycler. Many companies are now in the business of separating old tech into component parts and recycling those that can be used again like glass, plastic, and metals. Just be sure that they are e-Stewards-certified recyclers. These recyclers meet the highest standards and do not simply ship the e-waste off to other countries.

Check out your local community, and find the places near you where you can safely dispose of your old devices. That way, we can keep our environment healthy and still indulge in our love of all things electronic.

Pamela M.
Antioch Branch


This is a very informative article for everyone who has recently bought, or is planning on buying, a new phone. Throughout my experience, whenever company I was working at bought new technology, it would be thrown in the trash. Looking back now, I'm sure it could have recycled into warehouse equipment, or something useful. I'll be sure to spread the word!

From Dennis (not verified)
Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:50am

I don't change phones very often but when I upgraded last time I kept the old phone and turned it into my media device. It carries my e-books, audio books, music, etc., all without draining the battery on my new phone.

From Florence (not verified)
Mon, 04/16/2018 - 02:51pm

Nice information. After reading given information, I am shocked to know that how old cell phones can be harmful for environment. I have three old phones that I don’t use. These are like waste material for me. But after gaining information about recycling, I will surely recycle my old cell phones as well as other old electronic things. I know some websites like Recell Cellular, Decluttr, Gazelle, etc for recycling. Thanks a ton!!

From Gary Ragsdale (not verified)
Thu, 05/09/2019 - 02:34am

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