No matter how fond we grow of our pocket computers, there comes a time in every smartphone owner's life when it's time to bite the bullet and opt for an upgrade. And that poses the question of what to do with your outdated handset.
Quick tip: don't dump it straight into the trash. Electronic waste, or e-waste, can leak harmful chemicals into the environment, so you don't want it sitting in a landfill. The best way to dispose of your device is through an official recycling program, one which will make sure all the components are dealt with properly. Unlike regular trash and recycling, you can't put your e-waste out for curbside pickup, so proper disposal will vary depending on where you live. Read on to learn about accessible options across the US. Just remember to get rid of any private data on that device before you hand it over.
Go direct to the manufacturer
The big names in phones all have recycling programs of their own that you can take advantage of, no matter which state you live in. Apple's recycling scheme lets you take an old iPhone to any Apple Store or drop it in the mail. For newer phones, you can sometimes get a gift card to use against another Apple purchase.
Samsung has what it calls a Mobile Take-Back Program, which means you package your old Samsung phone up in a pre-paid envelope and send it back to Samsung. The manufacturer will dispose of the device in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment (by recycling certain components, for instance).
If your phone is LG-branded, then head to the LG Recycling Program website, enter your zip code, and you'll be met with a list of local drop-off points where you can leave your unwanted phone. HTC has a similar scheme in the US and will accept any device, irrespective of its manufacturer.
Find a local retail outlet
Don't want to mail your phone back to the company that made it? You don't have to go far to recycle your old phone in person. Retail outlets like Best Buy have thousands of stores across the US that you can visit. Best Buy's program will accept your defunct smartphone and dispose of it ethically. In fact, you can take almost any kind of electronic device back to Best Buy and the staff will get rid of it for you.
Staples is another well-known name with a comprehensive recycling program for taking your phone off your hands. If your device is still working and relatively new, you may also get some Staples credit back that you can spend on something else. The company also gives you the option to mail in your device or drop it off in a store in person.
Another option is to use your carrier's recycling scheme. T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon all let you return your old phones (and other electronics) to stores. Like Staples, some of the carriers will give you a trade-in value that you can put towards any new gadget you've got your eye on. Between carriers, manufacturers, and electronics stores, you should be able to find somewhere nearby to recycle your phone. Many of these schemes offer mail-in options too.
Donate it to charity
Some of those trade-in programs let you turn old phones into cash. But instead of spending the money on yourself, why not donate it to a good cause? Not only does the environment benefit, so do some of the people who need help the most.
The Recycling for Charities site is a good place to start: You can mail in your obsolete device and select a charity of your choice to receive the proceeds. Phones4Charity works similarly. To stay local, try AmericanCellPhoneDrive.org, which lets you input your zip code to find charity recycling initiatives in your area.
Most individual organizations will be only too happy to receive your old mobile phones, so if there are a few charities you're keen to support, just ask them if it's an option. Some of the organizations that accept phones nationwide are the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Hope Phones (also known as Medic Mobile), and Cell Phones for Soldiers.
Other options, state-by-state
Official state-sponsored recycling programs vary across the US, but you will always be able to find the most up-to-date information from your state's government website. In New York State, for example, any store that sells you a cell phone is also required to accept it back from you for recycling. The same law applies in California.
Meanwhile, Washington State has an official e-cycle scheme that you can access on the web. Enter your zip code and what you want to recycle, and the site returns options for mailing in your unwanted phones. Other states, such as Illinois, provide a list of approved recyclers that you can refer to.
For a full list of options in your state, head to the E-Cycling Central website. You can input your state and see all of the private and public choices for phone recycling, which in some states run into the hundreds. Click on any entry for more details.