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Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse: What to do With Broken Cell Phones

What to do With Broken Cell Phones

Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse: What to do With Broken Cell Phones

What to do with broken cell phones - Cell phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. As technology rapidly advances, many people upgrade their phones frequently. This leaves the question of what to do with older, outdated, or broken cell phones. A broken cell phone is one with any kind of physical damage, software issue, or general lack of functionality that prevents its normal operation.

Properly disposing of broken cell phones is important for several reasons:

  • Security: Broken phones may still contain sensitive personal data like contacts, photos, emails, and more. It's important to properly wipe data before disposal to prevent identity theft. 
  • Environment: Cell phones contain toxic materials like mercury, lead, and cadmium. Improper disposal can allow these to contaminate water sources and the food chain.
  • Resource conservation: Reusing or recycling cell phone components conserves natural resources and energy. Refurbishing phones for resale also reduces e-waste.
  • Compliance: In some areas, there are laws prohibiting the disposal of e-waste like cell phones in landfills. Proper disposal ensures compliance.
  • Convenience: Many stores and carriers now offer trade-in programs that take broken phones, providing an easy way to upgrade and dispose.

This guide will explore the various recommended options for sustainably handling broken cell phones without impacting the environment or personal security. The proper disposal of electronics is an increasingly important issue as usage rises.

Assess If It Can Be Fixed

Before assuming your phone is irreparably broken, do some troubleshooting to see if it can be fixed. Here are some steps to try:

  • Charge the phone - Plug it into the charger and give it some time to charge up. Sometimes the battery just needs recharging. 
  • Hard reset the phone - Most phones can be reset by holding down the power button and volume button at the same time. This will restart the phone and clear any software glitches.
  • Check for water damage - If your phone got wet, look for indicators like water in the ports or foggy camera lens. Try drying it thoroughly before turning it on again.
  • Update software - Make sure the phone’s operating system is updated to the latest version. Outdated software can cause issues.
  • Reset network settings - From the settings menu, reset network connections and try searching for service again. This fixes network connection problems.
  • Replace battery - If the battery no longer holds a charge, replacing it can sometimes bring the phone back to life. Only use a compatible replacement battery.
  • Check for hardware damage - Cracked screens, damaged ports, broken buttons, and loose connections can often be repaired rather than needing a full replacement. 

If none of these basic troubleshooting steps revive the phone, it likely has an internal hardware problem or extensive damage that makes repair impractical. At that point, it's time to think about recycling options. But don't throw it out without trying some DIY fixes first.

Backup Data

Backing up the data on your broken phone before getting rid of it is extremely important. Your phone likely contains sensitive personal information like contacts, photos, videos, and text messages that you'll want to save and transfer to your next device.   

Losing the data on your broken phone is frustrating and often heartbreaking if you have important files and memories stored on it. Thankfully, backing up and transferring your phone's data is usually possible even if the screen is cracked or the device won't power on.

Here are some tips for salvaging your data before disposing of or recycling your broken phone:

  • If the screen works, manually back up data and files by plugging into a computer or uploading to a cloud service. Copy photos, contacts, media files, documents, etc.
  • If the screen is broken but the phone still turns on, use a USB On-the-Go (OTG) cable to connect a mouse and keyboard. This allows you to navigate the phone and backup files.
  • Use data recovery software designed for smartphones to pull data from a broken phone via a USB cable. Some options include Dr. Fone, EaseUS MobiSaver, and iMyFone Fixppo.
  • Take the phone to a repair shop and ask them to do an emergency data backup. Many shops have tools to access and save data even from badly damaged devices.
  • On iPhone, utilize a fully encrypted iTunes or iCloud backup to preserve your information if possible before disposal. 
  • With an Android phone, sync data to your Google account. Contacts, calendars, photos, etc can be restored to a new Android device during setup if synced.

Losing all your data, photos, contacts, and messages when a phone breaks can be devastating. Be sure to fully backup and transfer important files before properly disposing of or recycling a damaged device. With some effort, you can likely salvage your precious data - protecting those memories and information even after the phone stops working.

Resell or Donate

If your phone is still functional but has some issues like a cracked screen, you may be able to resell it or donate it so someone else can use it. Here are some options for giving your phone new life:

  1. Sell it online - Sites like Gazelle, Decluttr, and ItsWorthMore allow you to get quotes for your broken phone and will pay you if it meets their criteria. They then refurbish the phones and resell them. This lets you recoup some money and keeps phones from ending up in landfills.
  2. Donate to charities - Many charities like Cell Phones for Soldiers, 911 Cell Phone Bank, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence accept donated phones to give to those in need. Make sure to wipe your data first.
  3. Trade it in - Wireless providers and electronics retailers often have trade-in programs where you can get credit toward a new phone purchase. Even with cracks or defects, trade-in values might be $50-$100.
  4. Sell to ecoATM kiosks - Companies like ecoATM have automated kiosks that evaluate, buy and recycle used phones. You can get an instant quote and cash payment if it meets their valuation.
  5. List on Facebook Marketplace - Post the phone for sale locally on Facebook Marketplace. Be upfront about any defects and you may find someone willing to buy it, especially for popular models.
  6. Donate to phone recycling programs - Some companies like Mobile Muster in Australia let you donate old phones that get refurbished and resold. Or they ethically recycle what can't be reused.

The key is finding options to rehome functioning phones so they can be used again instead of discarded. Even with defects, broken phones often still have value for others.

Recycle Components

When a phone is beyond repair, there are often still components that can be reused or recycled properly. One of the most important parts to recycle from broken phones is the batteries. Phone batteries contain toxic chemicals like lithium, and if not disposed of correctly, they can leach into the environment and cause harm. 

Luckily, there are proper ways to recycle phone batteries to avoid this. Start by removing the battery from the broken phone if possible. Many batteries in smartphones can be taken out by unscrewing the back cover and carefully disconnecting. For batteries that can't easily be removed, you'll need to take the whole phone to a recycling center. 

If you've managed to remove the battery, take it to a battery recycling drop-off location, which is often available at electronics or office supply stores. You can also use a mail-back program to send spent batteries to a recycling facility. The chemicals will then be extracted at the facility and reused.

Other recyclable components include circuit boards, which contain metals like gold, copper and nickel. Breaking down the materials properly allows these finite resources to be recovered and used again in new products. Display screens also may be recyclable if an appropriate facility is available in your area. Remove any personal data from the device before recycling components.

Properly recycling batteries, circuit boards, and displays keeps these hazardous or valuable materials out of landfills. It helps create a sustainable cycle of reusing finite resources rather than having them go to waste.

Find Recycling Locations 

Finding an e-waste recycling center to properly dispose of your broken cell phone is easier than you may think. Many big box retailers and wireless providers offer phone recycling programs at their stores. 

Best Buy accepts three phones per household per day at any location for free recycling, regardless of where you purchased the phone. Simply bring your device to the customer service desk.

Staples also takes phones, batteries, and other electronics for recycling at no cost. Just drop off the items at the store's EcoDesk.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint run take-back programs that allow you to mail in or drop off old mobile devices at participating locations. You don't have to be a customer to use their recycling services. 

For other options, search online for 'e-waste recycling near me' and enter your zip code. Many non-profit organizations, community centers, and local government recycling events will come up where you can properly dispose of electronics like phones for free. Some cities also have special hazardous waste drop-off days for e-waste.

When using a mail-back program or dropping off your device, be sure to wipe it of any personal data beforehand. Check that batteries are removed too if required. Proper e-waste disposal ensures toxic materials stay out of landfills.

Remove Personal Information

Before recycling or disposing of your broken cell phone, it is extremely important to wipe all personal data from the device. Leaving sensitive information on a phone that will be recycled or thrown out puts you at huge risk for identity theft and fraud. 

When you dispose of an old cell phone, delete all contacts, call logs, text messages, photos, videos, and any other personal information stored on the device. Also, be sure to remove the SIM card if it contains confidential data.

Phones today hold a tremendous amount of private information about our lives. Everything from financial records, passwords, and emails to location history and browsing habits may be accessible on the device. Letting that data fall into the wrong hands can have disastrous consequences.

Some steps to wipe your phone before recycling:

  • - Back up any data you want to keep, such as contacts and photos. 
  • - Perform a factory reset on the phone to restore it to its original settings.
  • - Remove the SIM card. 
  • - Clear browser history, caches, and stored passwords.
  • - Use a secure delete option if available.
  • - Physically destroy the phone if concerned about confidential business or government data.

Erasing personal information from your old phone takes just a few minutes but is a critical part of the recycling process. Don't take shortcuts - protect your identity and private data by fully wiping your phone before letting it go. Recycling electronics responsibly means keeping your information safe even when the device leaves your possession.

## Mail-In Recycling 

Many manufacturers and carriers now offer mail-in recycling programs that provide an easy way to responsibly recycle your old cell phones. These programs allow you to print out a free shipping label, package up your device, and mail it off to be recycled for free.

Some of the major phone companies that offer mail-in phone recycling include:

  • Apple - You can trade in or recycle your old iPhones and other Apple devices on Apple's website. Apple will either pay you credit for the device or recycle it for free. 
  • Samsung - On Samsung's website you can print a prepaid shipping label to mail in your old Samsung devices to be recycled.
  • Verizon - Verizon offers a trade-in program that provides prepaid shipping labels to mail in old devices.
  • AT&T - Through the AT&T Phone Trade-in Program, you can mail in your old AT&T phones for recycling or get credit for select devices. 
  • Best Buy - Best Buy allows you to trade in phones by mailing them in with a prepaid shipping label.

To use these mail-in recycling programs, you'll need to visit the company's website and order a prepaid shipping label. Carefully package up your old phone in a box with bubble wrap or other padding. Make sure to factory reset the device and remove any SIM cards or SD cards. Then apply the shipping label, drop off the package at any shipping office or mailbox, and your old phone will be recycled responsibly!

Disposal Laws

Cell phones contain hazardous materials like lead and mercury that can contaminate the environment if not disposed of properly. There are federal and state laws regulating the disposal of old cell phones to prevent environmental contamination and encourage recycling:

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits consumers and recyclers from simply throwing away cell phones. They must be recycled according to EPA standards.
  • The EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) provides guidelines on properly handling hazardous materials in electronic devices like phones.
  • State laws may also regulate cell phone recycling and disposal. For example, California requires retailers to take back old devices. New York bans disposing of e-waste in landfills. 
  • The EPA partners with cell phone makers, carriers, and retailers in voluntary recycling programs. For instance, the Verizon HopeLine program refurbishes devices to donate to victims of domestic violence.
  • Most states have e-waste landfill bans, requiring recycling. Consumers and companies can face fines for improper disposal in landfills.

The key is understanding federal and local laws to ensure old cell phones are recycled or disposed of properly. Proper handling prevents health hazards and environmental damage from toxins and conserves resources by recycling usable components.

Future Phone Buying

When it's time to purchase a new phone, consider options that will reduce waste and disposable electronics in the future. Here are some tips:

  • Buy phones with replaceable batteries - Many phones now have sealed-in batteries that cannot be removed or replaced, meaning the whole phone has to be discarded when the battery dies. Seek out phones, especially from smaller manufacturers, that allow you to swap out the battery. This extends the usable life.
  • Choose phones made from recycled materials - Some manufacturers are producing phones made partially from recycled electronic components or plastic. The Fairphone brand, for example, uses recycled plastics and e-waste metals in their supply chain. Supporting these sustainable practices with your wallet encourages further adoption.
  • Get phones with longer software support - Software updates can help phones run smoothly years after the initial release. iPhones tend to get software updates for 5-6 years, while Samsung and Google flagships get about 3 years of updates. The longer a phone is supported, the longer you can reliably use it before needing to upgrade.
  • Buy used or refurbished phones - Consider buying gently used phones from resale sites or refurbished ones from the manufacturer. This extends the life of an existing phone instead of incurring the environmental costs of manufacturing a brand-new one. Just be sure to purchase from reputable sellers.
  • Choose budget-friendly midrange models - Rather than opting for the latest flagship, look into midrange models from the previous 1-2 years. The tech is still modern but the prices are lower for very capable phones. Midrange models are less disposable.

With some forethought about long-term use and sustainability, you can purchase a new phone that reduces future e-waste and breakages. The goal is to prolong use cycles rather than tossing phones at the first sign of age.