Sell Your Cell Phone, Don’t Recycle; Here’s Why

by Kevin on January 14, 2011

I am a huge fan of environmentally friendly living. I’m not the guy that is selling everything he owns and living in a 200 square foot house, but I try to make simple decisions that are “green”. I turn the lights off when I leave the room, and those lights have compact fluorescent bulbs in them. We run our thermostat low in winter, and very high in summer. (We’ve even gone the entire month of May without air conditioning. We live in the south. It’s a big deal.)

All that having been said you won’t catch me recycling my cell phone any time soon. Not unless I have to. It just doesn’t make sense.

Why Recycling Your Cell Phone is Dumb

Simply walking into a recycling center (or business that recycles devices for free like Best Buy) and handing over your cell phone to be recycled is dumb.

Environmentally dumb? Of course not. You’re doing the right thing there by (hopefully) ensuring that phone is dismantled correctly and the nasty electronic components and chemicals don’t end up in a landfill somewhere.

But that’s environmentally. Financially? Dumb move. Most of the “used” things you own have some sort of value in the global economy. While donating or recycling those items isn’t necessarily bad you can definitely make a more wise financial decision.

Even if your phone is only worth $20… that’s $20 toward your savings goal that you didn’t have. Maximize the value wherever you can.

When Should I Recycle My Cell Phone?

You should recycle your phone when it is beyond any use and carries no value.

That may sound extreme, but why would you give away value for free? Even if you sign a two-year contract you should try to get some value for your phone because a two-year old phone, while definitely outdated, is still worth something.

Where to Sell a Cell Phone

There are a bunch of different places you can sell your phone to both online and in person. Do your research before jumping in, especially if you’re sending in a phone worth a lot of money.

I wholeheartedly endorse Gazelle.com. I’ve used them to sell older electronics, including an older digital camera. Payment was prompt, they sent a box to me with a shipping label, and everything went extraordinarily smooth. Gazelle does make money off of you, so you can do better on price. But I’ve used Gazelle as my place of “I don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling this”, “I’m afraid of getting scammed on eBay”, or “no one else is willing to buy this item but Gazelle will.” Gazelle takes your items and either sells them on eBay or through other channels.

There are several companies that claim to pay you cash for your cell phone, but do your research and don’t get burned. I had a bad experience with Sell Your Cell (Is sell your cell a scam?). Now someone is leaving comments on my blog saying they are under new ownership and everything has been cleaned up, but I don’t know if there is any truth to that claim.

Oh and here’s a recent Yahoo article on recycling your phone for cash. Gazelle is mentioned.

You can try eBay (use this calculator to factor how much you’ll net) and tread carefully. Don’t get scammed using eBay and Paypal.

You can also try to sell it locally through Craigslist or to a friend or friend of a friend. Selling in person, in theory, should be much safer than selling online. Here’s an interesting guide to selling without Craigslist or eBay.

Where to Recycle

If your phone is completely worthless or you don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling your phone, then please do make every attempt to recycle it.

You have a multitude of options including local e-cyclers, Best Buy, your wireless provider, and office supply stores. Check out an overview of your phone recycling options at Lifehacker.

Secure Your Phone Before Selling, Recycling, or Donating

MAKE SURE YOU WIPE YOUR PERSONAL DATA OFF THE PHONE BEFORE YOU SELL / RECYCLE / DONATE IT.

Am I clear?

Imagine turning in your smartphone with your side income emails still on it, or your bank PIN number on it, or an email from your tax preparer or employer.

All kinds of personal data ends up on your phone. Personal data that can be used against you or used to get to your bank accounts. There’s a million possibilities, and as remote as they might be, it doesn’t make sense to send in an unsecured phone.

In short, nothing good can happen from sending in your phone without wiping it first. If you don’t know how to wipe the data from your phone completely just do a Google search for it. The effort to wipe a phone is usually pretty minimal. You’ll also either want to wipe any memory cards (such as SD Memory) or remove them and put them in your next phone.

Once the phone is wiped and clear of your data then feel free to sell, recycle, or donate it as you see fit.

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