Your Old Cell Phone Is More Valuable Than You Think


Those old cell phones you’ve been stashing in a desk drawer aren’t just taking up valuable storage space in your home, they’re also not so great for the planet. Cell phones contain valuable resources, including gold, silver, copper, zinc and platinum. The average American has two spare phones lying around, but when these languish in people’s homes instead of being recycled, new metals must be extracted from the ground to make new products — a resource-intensive process that could be avoided if unwanted cell phones were simply recycled, say the authors of a study in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. And if these old phones end up in the landfill, not only will their parts and value be wasted, but lead and other heavy metals they contain will be able to leach into our soil and groundwater. According to the EPA, 70 percent of toxins in landfills are from electronic waste.

How much metal are we really talking about?

  • Sims Recycling claims that Americans toss $60 million worth of gold and silver annually in the form of cell phones.
  • In 2014, between April and June, iPhone sales accounted for the sale of more than 31,000 oz of gold — that adds up to over $39 million worth of gold thrown into circulation in just a few months, and doesn’t take any other precious metals into account.
  • Business Insider estimates that Americans are sitting on $33.8 billion of unused cell phones.

When you look at it that way, it’s time to cash in on our resources.

What to Do With Your Old Phone

Fortunately, there’s an easy answer to this environmental problem: Clear out your drawers of old phones and recycle them. You can trade in your device for credit towards a new phone with your mobile carrier, sell it online, donate it to a charitable organization or recycle it with your other e-waste. Check out a full list of options in the recycling guide.

But there’s something more you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your cell phone use: Resist the urge to buy a new phone if there is nothing wrong with your current device. It’s easy to be seduced by new iPhone models and deals that come with contract renewals, but using your current phone as long as possible will prevent the unnecessary manufacture of new phones. That means fewer resources will need to be used all together.