How To Dispose Of Broken Cell Phones

Figuring out how to dispose of broken cell phones might seem difficult but it must be done responsibly and it isn’t as difficult as we might think. Throwing away cell phones and other electronics in the garbage is simply not an option either because these electronics end up piling up in landfills and dumps, only to pollute the environment in ways that I assure you, you want nothing to do with! So if you are like me, and want to learn about the best ways to dispose of broken cell phones, that’s exactly what we’ll be exploring here. 

We’ll be looking into why it's so bad to throw away broken cell phones, whether there are any laws against throwing away cell phones in the garbage, how improper cell phone disposal impacts the environment, and much more. So without further ado let’s get into it and thank you so much for trying to do your part to reduce the impact of e-waste

Cell Phone Disposal: What To Do With Old, Broken cell phones

If you want to dispose of a broken cell phone it is best to consider all of the options and to see what works best for you. You can sell your old mobile on the secondary market, trade it in in exchange for credit on a new one, have it recycled, or donate it to a charitable organization. 

What you choose may depend on the condition of the device(s) and the services that are available near you but responsible cell phone disposal is actually not as hard as you might imagine and we are so glad for it because old cell phones and electronics can be quite toxic for the environment and for humans when they are not properly disposed of. 

What Is Wrong With Throwing Away Broken Cell Phones? 

For starters, cell phones are made up of precious metals and other valuable materials that can be recycled. Things like gold, silver, and platinum can be removed from the waste stream and reused. In fact, up to 80% of a phone is recyclable so just throwing cell phones away is actually very wasteful. 

According to the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition, sending e-waste to the dump actually leads to significant losses in scarce and valuable raw materials like gold, platinum, cobalt, and rare earth elements

We also buy a lot of cell phones, particularly in the developed world. In 2020 alone, it is estimated that about 1.3 billion smartphones were sold worldwide. And we don’t tend to keep them for more than 2-3 years either. That’s a lot of cell phones. Not to mention that we throw away about 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year, only 20% of which is formally recycled! That’s computers, laptops, iPads, tablets, kitchen appliances, televisions, and all sorts of other stuff just being thrown away in the garbage. 

And most of it isn’t made of nice, gentle, biodegradable, non-toxic materials. Instead, it can contain hazardous materials like cadmium, chromium V, brominated flame retardants, lead, and mercury that can leach into the ground and contaminate our water and soil. So it's super important to be mindful about what we do with our cell phones and other electronics when we are finished with them. And it is not as big of a pain as some might imagine, especially for those of us in the developed world.

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Is There A Law Against Throwing Away cell phones?

In the US, many states have passed laws to prevent people from throwing away cell phones and other e-waste into landfills or incinerating them. However, in many others, there are no regulations on that at all. 

In Canada, most provinces prohibit the disposal of e-waste in landfills and almost every province in the country has or is in the process of developing industry-led programs to responsibly dispose of e-waste. Canada even goes as far as banning the exportation of e-waste, which would most likely end up going to developing countries that are left with a hefty burden from our global e-waste problem. In fact, as it stands, tonnes of global “e-waste is disposed of by the world’s poorest workers in the worst of conditions, putting their health and lives at risk” according to a report by the United Nations

In Europe, there is no law prohibiting e-waste although that may be one on the way. However, there are laws requiring member states to collect e-waste and laws banning the exportation of hazardous waste including e-waste since 1994. 

How Does Improper Cell phone Disposal Impact The Environment? 

Cell phones contain toxins that can leach into the environment if improperly disposed of, contaminating our water and our soil. This can be harmful to animals, humans, and plants. Some of these toxins include heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium, the impacts of which are well documented. Take lead for example, which is known to cause cancer and brain damage. The same goes for mercury which can cause brain damage, muscular disorders, and other health issues

Soil and Water Contamination

Naturally, these harmful toxins find their way into our water and our soil. This poses a problem for our ecosystems and the animal and plant life that live there since these toxins are also harmful to them. We also need clean water and healthy soils to grow food, and for recreational purposes as well so the cost of e-waste is far greater than we might imagine. I do not know about you but I definitely don’t want to eat food grown in contaminated soils or swim in rivers, lakes, and streams with high levels of heavy metals. 

Bioaccumulative Hazardous Substances 

When e-waste like old cell phones enters our ecosystems it can go on to contaminate the food chain as well. The toxins they release are absorbed or ingested by small organisms and make their way up the food chain. We are most likely exposed to these toxins in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and persistent organic pollutants that can bioaccumulate along the food chain. They eventually go on to enter our systems and accumulate in our bodies as well. This can have a severe impact on our health which is notoriously the case with the alarming levels of mercury found in big fish. 

Incineration Air Pollution 

Incineration is also used as a method of disposal for electronic waste. It is used to either reduce the volume of e-waste before taking it to a landfill or as a sorting method to reclaim valuable metals in the recycling process. Either way, the burning of plastics in electronics can release dioxins into the air, as well as other harmful toxins. Where phones and other electronics are being recycled illegally, incineration is particularly dangerous. To avoid the risks associated with incineration in recycling be sure to entrust your old mobile or other electronics with qualified recyclers. 

What Is The Best Way To Dispose Of Old, Broken cell phones? 

As with all things sustainable living, the best way to dispose of old, broken cell phones turns out to be what is best for you, what is available near you, and what is within your means. Borrowing from zero waste best practices it is not worth doing if it cannot be sustained in the long term. 

So, if you can, it’s always good to go for repairs before reaching for brand new products–from our electronics all the way down to our shoes. The point is to try to keep things in circulation for as long as possible.

If you cannot figure out how to repair something and can make the time, do a little bit of digging, ask around the internet or reach out to the tech-savvy people in your circles for some advice. You would be surprised to find that a lot of electronics can actually be repaired and used for much longer with the right know-how. 

If that is not possible there are many more options to choose from when it comes to disposing of your old, broken cell phone. You can bring it to a recycling center near you, or take advantage of trade-in and recycling programs offered by your mobile service provider, certain retailers, and cell phone manufacturers. 

How Do You Recycle A Broken cell phone? 

To recycle broken phones, the simplest option is to drop them off at a local recycling center that accepts electronic waste. But you can also find companies that may be willing to buy your broken device. If you intend to store your old device in your home, be very careful. It is not advisable to keep old phones long-term because the phones and batteries can potentially expose you to harmful substances as they degrade due to moisture and temperature extremes. 

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How Do I find a cell phone recycling center near me? 

A quick search on your favorite search engine should lead you to the answer. We do have some recommendations to help with that as well. If you are based in the US and Canada we found the Earth911 Recycling Search Tool to be very helpful. Try the 'Search For' tool to find out how to recycle other things like televisions or batteries too! If the Earth911 tool does not work for you, try a search using: ‘recycling cell phones + [your town or postal code]’. We found some options that way too.  

If you are in Canada you can also use Recycle My Electronics to find drop-off locations near you. If applicable, consider donating your old cell phone to a great cause thanks to CNIB’s Phone It Forward program

If you are based in the UK try Recycle Now by using your postcode to see if you can recycle a broken cell phone at home or to find the nearest recycling point. 

What To Do With Old Broken cell phones — Other Options For cell phone Disposal: 

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There are many ways to dispose of cell phones that do not involve the landfill. You can donate them to charitable organizations, benefit from buyback programs, use EcoATMs and get cash for your old phone, and more. Here are several options to choose from on what to do with old broken cell phones: 

Charitable Donations

According to Recycle Now, most charities accept old cell phones whether they are working or not since they can raise funds by sending them to cell phone recycling companies. Consider finding charitable organizations near you and asking if they would like your old cell phone(s). 

Cell Phone Carriers/Manufacturer Buyback or Trade-In Programs

If you’re getting a new phone with your mobile provider they usually offer the option to trade in your old device for a new one. Be sure to ask about it if they do not mention it. 

Some phone manufacturers offer a financial incentive to recycle your old phone with them but that may depend on how old the device is. If the device is not eligible they will at the very least recycle it free of charge. 

If you are buying a new cell phone outright ask the merchant about recycling options for your old one when making your purchase. 

EcoATM’s Cash For cell phones At Walmart 

You can try selling your old phone at a kiosk. For those in the US consider finding an EcoATM. It is a kind of trade-in option using an automated kiosk that allows you to turn in your used cell phone, tablets, or other devices for cash on the spot.

They accept broken and functional products alike. To find a kiosk near you check out the 'Find A Kiosk' feature on their website. Similar services are available around the world so have a look around the internet to find options near you. 

Best Buy Cell Phone Recycling or Trade-In 

Best Buy offers the option to recycle or trade in everything from cell phones and cameras to vacuums and speakers– even if you didn’t buy it from a Best Buy. To see if you can take advantage of their Trade-in Program check out their Trade-in Calculator.

Call2Recycle Lowes, HomeDepot, Staples 

Call2Recycle collects your old rechargeable batteries, single-use batteries, cell phones, and e-bike batteries free of charge at thousands of locations across the US and Canada, including The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Staples. Find a location near you using their 'Find a Drop-off Location' feature. Make sure to select the kind of product you are trying to recycle using the ‘What would you like to recycle’ menu on the right-hand side of the page to avoid going to the wrong location. 

Secondary Market 

If you have an old cell phone that is still in good condition, selling it on the secondary marketplace is an option as well. You might even check out the options available if you are on the market for a new phone. This is a great way of keeping working cell phones in circulation and of reducing our environmental footprint. You might also find you save quite a bit of money buying used. 

Can I recycle cell phones in my curbside recycling program?

It depends on what your local waste management services accept but that is currently not very likely so be sure to do some research before chucking your old electronics in the curbside bin. All items that are not meant to be in the bin will wind up at the landfill. They will not be removed from the waste stream and recycled. 

To find out if your curbside service includes electronics like cell phones, try your waste management service provider's website to see what items are accepted curbside. In Toronto, electronic waste can be set out on garbage day and picked up free of charge, but it should not be put in the blue bins. 

The Benefits Of Recycling Broken Phones And Proper Cell Phone Disposal: 

  • Conserving Natural Resources/Precious Metals
  • Saving Energy
  • Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions (mineral processing for new units
  • Keeping Reusable Materials Out Of Landfills.
  • Keeping Toxic Material Out Of Landfills 

There is no downside to cell phone recycling!

Besides helping to save the environment and natural resources, you could make someone’s day, make a little cash, or get a trade-in credit towards your next cell phone! 

Do remember to remove your personal data from your phone or any other electronics that you plan to sell or donate. If you need some help with that check out this article on how to reset an iPhone or this one of how to reset an android phone. And remember to try to support sustainable technology brands like Fairphone or projects like PHONEBLOKS that strive to offer more eco-friendly ethical electronics that are easier and more affordable to repair. This also applies to eco-friendly appliances like eco kettles. 

If you need more sustainable essentials be sure to drop by the brand directory for green beauty, plastic-free zero waste essentials, sustainable clothing, and everything in between. 

Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:

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