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Mobile Phone Recycling: What to do with your old handset

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The average consumer in the UK now owns almost two mobile phones – that means there are a lot of old mobile phones lying around unused somewhere in a cupboard which could be put to good use. In this article, we investigate the various options for recycling or re-using your old mobile phone. These include sending it in to a recycling company and receiving cash, unlocking it and passing it onto friends and family or selling it online.


Recycling your mobile phone


50 million mobile phones are replaced in the UK every year and like other electronic devices, phones can contain substances that are harmful to people and the environment if they are incorrectly disposed of. For example, some mobile phones contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadium. These metals have been linked to cancer in humans and can pose a danger if released into the environment or dumped into a landfill. Whilst the use of potentially hazardous substances has been reduced in the latest generation of handsets, the environmental footprint associated with a mobile phone can still be substantial. For these reasons, a mobile phone should never be disposed of along with household waste in a landfill - it should always be responsibly recycled or re-used.


As an incentive to recycle your mobile phone, many companies have recently sprung up to offer cash rewards for recycling your mobile phone. Some of the main mobile recycling companies have been reviewed by Money Saving Expert who also provide a comparison tool to find out how much money you could receive by recycling your phone at different companies.


When sending your phone to a recycling company, it’s worth noting that 95% of “recycled” handsets are simply refurbished and then sold on either in the UK or abroad (at a profit margin). For this reason, if your mobile phone is in a good condition and you are happy to invest the time in selling it yourself, you could receive a better price by cutting the middle man out and selling your phone directly.


Passing your phone onto friends/family


iPhone 3G S.jpgOne popular option for re-using an old mobile phone is to unlock it and to pass it onto friends or family members. This is gradually becoming a more popular option over the last few years – for example as consumers upgrade to the new iPhone 4S, they often unlock their old iPhone 3G S or iPhone 4 and pass it onto a partner or the kids. Instead of them having to buy a new mobile phone at market prices, they can use the old mobile phone whilst benefitting from a super-cheap SIM-only tariff such as giffgaff goodybags.


If you’re giving your phone to friends or family and are introducing them to giffgaff at the same time, you could even earn yourself a fiver by spreading the word and sending them a SIM card. What’s more, you can both save money when staying in touch using the free giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls and texts. It’s also possible to use instant messaging applications such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to stay in touch with each other.


Selling your old mobile phone


Selling your old mobile phone is a popular option for many people – either directly to a friend or through websites such as eBay. As many mobile phone recycling companies simply re-sell your old mobile phone, you can sometimes cut out the middle-man and get a better price by selling it directly. An even-better price can sometimes be commanded if you unlock your phone first before selling it.


For example, sending a 8GB iPhone 3G S to a recycling company would command a price of approximately £85. Selling it directly on eBay would command about £110 (an additional £25), whereas unlocking it and selling it on eBay would command around £130 (an additional £45 compared to simply recycling it).


Method of Re-Use


Increase in value

Recycling Company






Unlocking & Selling




Use it as a backup phone


Climber.jpgThere are going to be times where it just doesn’t make sense to carry round a flashy new iPhone 4S or a Galaxy Nexus. For example, if you’re going abroad or spending a weekend in the Lake District, the last thing you want to do is to worry about losing or damaging your phone.


In these situations, your old mobile phone can come in incredibly useful as you don’t need to worry so much about damaging it. Older mobile phones may also provide longer battery life than the smartphones available today – great if you’re going to be away from a power socket.


If you spend an extended amount of times outdoors, we recommend a rugged mobile phone which can provide some protection against water, dust and impacts.


Key tips: Important Things to Remember


Regardless of whether you choose to recycle your phone, pass it onto friends or family members or whether you choose to sell it, there are always several things you should do before getting rid of a mobile phone or giving it to somebody else.


  1. Remove the SIM card from your phone. Unless you’re changing mobile network, you’ll need your SIM card for your new phone. If you’re changing mobile network and you no longer need your old SIM card, it could still contain personal information such as your address book, phone numbers and text messages. For this reason, you should dispose of old SIM cards in a similar way to an old credit card by cutting through the metal chip.

  2. Remove the memory card from your phone. You may have a micro-SD card inside your phone with photos, videos, downloads and other information stored by applications on your smartphone. This should be removed from your phone and can be re-used in other devices such as your camera.

  3. checklist.pngPerform a factory reset. Your smartphone will store lots of personal information about you: the login information for your e-mail and Facebook account for example. Each application will also store additional information – for example the web browser will store your browsing history and cookies. Whilst it is possible to remove your personal information from each application manually, the fastest way to do it across the entire device is to perform a “factory reset” from the “Settings” menu.

  4. Remove the PIN lock code. If you’ve protected your mobile phone with a PIN code or a lock screen, you should remove this for the next person.

  5. Unlock your mobile phone. Consider unlocking your mobile phone. If you’re passing it onto a friend or family member, they may need the phone to be unlocked before they can use it on their mobile network of choice. If you’re selling your mobile phone, you’re also likely to get a higher price when your mobile phone is unlocked. Some mobile networks will only unlock a phone if the request comes from the registered owner.

Your thoughts…


In this article, we’ve explored the various ways of recycling and re-using an old mobile phone. They range from sending it into a recycling company and receiving cash to passing it on to a friend or family member.


How many phones do you have lying around the house? Which is the oldest phone that you still own? What did you do with your old phone the last time that you upgraded? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please drop us a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!  


Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

Done it a few times through recycling companies. Usually OK but have been stung twice, once to a company that disapeared and once where my handset was "lost in the post" didn't have proof of posting so couldn't claim. Not sure if it was the company pulling a fast one or postal theft. So, make sure you use a reputable company even if they offer a little less and spend a £ or two more to make sure you have postal cover.
Saw a programme last night where they could pull out loads of old info out of back up memory. Be sure to wipe out everything. So don't want my drunken pics flying around the Internet!

What about old chargers, earphones, hands free kits etc. Have loads of those, the mobile recycling firms won't take them, many don't fit newer phones. Any ideas?


iv still got mine sitting at home.... must do something with them.

I agree mbg2. I'm sure some of those old phones had enough lead in them for somebody not to bother with the hassle of nicking it off the local church! Smiley Wink
cool post Smiley Happy

i totally agree with fletchemonkey. 

also, what to do with really old phone that just don't work anymore (e.g. accidental hot cycle in the washing machine)? can't throw them into bin, no company will buy them, my local recycling centre will not take aerosol cans like deodorants etc. never mind mobile phones.what to do?


If you are thinking to change or Sell Mobile Phone for cash that is good idea to generate money for new one. There are many ways to sell or recycle Mobile Phone Online, select the best one to get best price.....