In our culture of constant upgrades, it’s easy to accumulate a small pile of electronics. In fact, Swedish tech firm Ericsson recently estimated that U.S. households on average own 5.2 Internet-connected devices.
But what happens when you’re ready to move on from your device? The next big thing comes out, and you don’t know what to do with your old, small device. When you upgrade, it’s tempting to just trash your old cellphone, but that’s not the best option.
Here are seven reasons why tossing your old phone is a bad idea — and some advice on what you can do instead.
In 2014, the world generated 41.8 million metric tons of wasted electronic equipment, according to a recent report from the United Nations University. That equipment includes devices such as computers, calculators, phones and appliances. Of that, only 6.5 million metric tons were recycled.
When these electronics are simply thrown away, or not disposed of properly, they can release toxins into the environment. A 2012 study by the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center found all 36 cellphone models it tested contained some toxins. “These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China,” Ecology Center Research Director Jeff Gearhart said at the time of the study’s release.
Recycling your old phone is not difficult. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Electronics Donation and Recycling” page can show you where to take or mail your old devices. Many retailers, such as Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples, also have tech recycling available. Most cellphone carriers will recycle your old devices, too.
You want to avoid tossing out your phone with your data, photos and correspondence still stored in it. All of your personal information should be erased.
Back up everything first, then delete all data, passwords, photos and Bluetooth connections. Sign out of every service and app, then head to your phone’s settings and complete a factory reset.
A factory reset is meant to clear everything from your phone, but it doesn’t always work as it should. Researchers from Purdue University’s Cyber Forensics Lab found that, even with a factory reset, your information can still be accessed on some phones.
In addition to the factory reset, the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, recommends you take a few extra security measures. First, if you have access to it, make sure to remove your phone’s SIM card. Chances are, you have personal information stored on this card, and your phone’s factory reset only affects the phone, not your SIM. The group also recommends using a data eraser app to make sure everything gets deleted. The CTIA has a list of approved apps.
There’s no shortage of companies that make it easy to sell your phone.
Online marketplace Glyde, for example, will list and sell your phone for you. Give Glyde a general description of the phone model and condition, and the company will try to find you a buyer. If someone purchases your phone, Glyde will ship you a packing box. Of course, this convenience comes at a cost. Glyde takes 15 percent of the sale price, and you’ll pay $1 to $6 for the shipping kit.
Gazelle is another popular online seller. This firm will buy your phone directly. Once you accept the quoted price, just ship the item to Gazelle and the company will send you an Amazon gift card, PayPal payment or check.
For a more lucrative option, you could try selling your phone on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist. They require a bit more effort on your end, but you can set your own price.
Another option is to trade in your old phone for store credit. Many retailers that offer recycling also offer trade-ins.
Best Buy has a popular trade-in program. The retailer will appraise your old cellphone in the store and give you a gift card, depending on the value. If Best Buy finds the phone isn’t worth anything, it will recycle it for you instead. You can also get an online estimate of Best Buy’s trade-in value.
Amazon offers a similar program, as do many cellphone carriers.
Verizon’s recycling program offers you a gift card or account credit for your old phone. It’s worth checking with your carrier to see what options are available.
Instead of getting rid of your old smartphone, consider repurposing it. There are plenty of creative options available.
For example, Jason Bauman, a former sales representative for Verizon, suggests using your phone as a media device.
“Modern smartphones have sizable internal storage, particularly when you remove the photos and videos after backing them up,” he says. “Instead of juggling your library on your new phone, keep a copy of it on your old device.”
You could turn it into a dedicated music player for your car, which is especially useful if your car stereo has Bluetooth capabilities.
A free app for Android and iOS devices called Presence lets you turn your phone into a home-monitoring system. Download it on your old device, and then simply pair that device with your new one. This way, you can use your old phone like a security camera, accessing it while you’re away. It’s a great way to check in on pets when you’re not home.
There are many agencies and organizations that will gladly put your phone to good use. Consider donating it to a worthy cause.
Verizon’s HopeLine program, for example, refurbishes and sells reusable phones and donates the proceeds to domestic violence organizations. Some phones — set up for free call and texting services — get distributed to those same organizations, which hand them out to domestic violence survivors.
Cell Phones for Soldiers sends your old phone to active-duty military members and veterans. You can either ship the phone (or phones) to the group directly, or you can search for a drop-off location near you.
Most organizations will do a factory reset on your phone for you. But, again, it’s still important to take extra precaution and delete all of your phone’s data and information.
If your old phone isn’t worth much, consider using it as a secondary device.
Most old smartphones can still dial 911, even if you’re no longer paying for service. You could keep it on hand as an emergency phone. Keep it turned off in your car’s glove compartment or emergency kit.
Or, you might use it when you travel. There are apps that let you make free phone calls and send free texts over Wi-Fi. If you don’t feel like carrying your new, expensive phone, you might use your old one as a backup. If the phone is unlocked, you can buy a prepaid SIM card in another country and use your old phone as an “abroad” device.