Retailers sell more than 1.5 billion new smartphones each year. And in the United States, at least, smartphone users buy a new device every two years or so [sources: Nair, Fowler]. The phones they abandon are often still perfectly functional (if perhaps a bit sluggish), and there's the question of what one should do with those older devices.
Whatever you do, don't simply chuck your old phone in the garbage. They contain lithium-ion batteries that constitute a real fire hazard, and they can even explode in some circumstances. By one estimate, 65 percent of waste facility fires (in California, at least) were ignited due to discarded cell phone batteries [source: Siegal].
In addition to the possibility of fire, cell phones electronics are composed of a veritable treasure trove of valuable components. They're are made with precious metals, copper and plastics, all of which can be recycled to make new products. Even so, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates only about 20 percent of all cell phones are recycled [source: LeBlanc].
Most cell phone providers have drop-off bins or mail-in programs to make recycling your old phone easy, but there are lots of ways you can recycle your phone and give to others. Many charities have partnered with cell phone refurbishing companies and recyclers as a way of generating funds while keeping phones out of landfills, so everybody wins. They always make sure to wipe any personal information before recycling or reusing these phones. Here are some ways to donate old phones.
1. Help Soldiers Call Home
Cell Phones for Soldiers provides talk time to overseas troops so they can call home. Founded in 2004 by two young teenagers who were distraught after learning of a soldier who racked up an $8,000 phone bill while serving in Iraq, Cell Phones for Soldiers has since collected more than 20 million devices and given away more than 400 million minutes of talk time to service personnel.
The organization collects old phones which it sells to a recycler or an electronic refurbisher, depending on the condition. It uses the proceeds to buy long distance calling cards, which are distributed to men and women who are serving in the military. Each phone donated buys about one hour of talk time for soldiers.
2. Help Victims of Domestic Violence
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) collects cell phones to help fund their programs. They accept phones and partner with Cellular Recycler, which sells refurbished electronics. Some of the funds from those sales then goes back to NCADV. They'll also accept other types of old electronics, too, including old laptops, digital cameras, video game consoles, and MP3 players, along with all of the related charging cords and accessories.
3. Support a Worthy Cause
Second Wave Recycling is an organization that accepts older phones, iPods and MP3 players, tablets and e-readers, handheld gaming devices, smart watches and even charging cables. Newer and functional devices are refurbished and then sold for cash. Older devices are recycled. The money from those processes is donated to fund a designated charity. Second Wave is actively funding the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers support services for military personnel who've been hurt while serving the U.S., but the organization has supported other causes, too, including charities that benefit medical patients, domestic abuse survivors, animals rescues, and many others. You can choose which charity to support.
4. Help Keep Your Community Safer
Did you know that all cell phones sold in the U.S., regardless of their carrier subscription status, must be able to dial 911 in case of an emergency? So that half-decade-old phone tucked away in storage will still call for an ambulance or police assistance, provided the battery is chargeable. 911 Cell Phone Bank is an organization that accepts used cell phones and recycles them to victims of abuse for emergency use; to law enforcement (for instance to replace a broken screen on a phone a suspect intentionally damaged) and to classrooms for use in app development courses.
5. Improve Heath Care around the World
Why stash your old phone in a shoebox in the attic when it could be used to save lives? Medic Mobile recycles and refurbishes old phones and tablets and uses the funds to buy mobile devices that medical workers use on the job in 26 countries, mostly in Asia, Latin America, or Africa. These devices register pregnancies, track disease outbreaks, and communicate about medical emergencies.