How to recycle or reuse your old smartphone


WhistleOut
05 June 2017

You might not think about recycling your smartphone, but you should be.

There’s a litany harmful components in our favourite devices - such as lead, cadmium, sulphur, beryllium and brominated flame retardants - e-waste is a serious and growing environmental hazard.

Smartphones are now the number one source of e-waste, due to their comparatively quick release and upgrade cycles. According to Mobile Muster, there's about five million unusable phones across Australian homes, up from four million last year. 

While it might be tempting to just throw out that old phone, here's a couple of better options than letting it sit in a landfill. 

Recycle it


If your phone is old and busted to the point where it won't even power up, the best thing you can do is recycle it. Mobile Muster is a non-for-profit government accredited mobile recycling program that's super simple to use. 

If you want to post in your phone or accessories, download a shipping label from the website and attach it to a padded bag. In some cases, new phones even come with a Mobile Muster bag in the box. Sending your phone into Mobile Muster won't cost you anything. Alternatively, you can drop your old phone at most Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, or Virgin stores.

Mobile Muster accepts all phones, phone batteries, chargers and adapters, and mobile broadband dongles. As part of its recycling program, the non-for-profit says it can recover 95% of the components found in a phone.

Not only do the potentially dangerous elements found inside a phone not end up in a landfill, recycling your device also puts the more useful components - such as gold - back in the supply chain and reduces the need to further extract and process new materials. 

Turn it into a portable modem


If your phone is still working, its easy enough to repurpose it for another task. One of the simplest is turning it into a portable modem.

If you pop a data only SIM into your old smartphone and turn on tethering, it will essentially work the same was a portable hotspot. Data only SIMs also tend to give you far more data than you'd get if you were on a plan that also includes talk and text, so they're not a bad way to get a few extra Gs in your life. 

Most providers' data only SIMs will work in a smartphone, but it might be worth double checking before you make the plunge. 

Provider Inclusions
OVO
OVO
  • Small Data Plan
  • 5GB Mobile Broadband
  • $19.95
Lebara Mobile
Lebara Mobile
  • Data Plan Small
  • 5GB Mobile Broadband
  • $20
Kogan Mobile
Kogan Mobile
  • Data S - 30 DAYS PLAN
  • 8GB Mobile Broadband
  • $29.90
Optus
Optus
  • $30 Prepaid Mobile Broadband SIM Starter Kit
  • 10GB Mobile Broadband
  • $30
Vodafone
Vodafone
  • Prepaid Mobile Broadband Recharge $30
  • 7.5GB Mobile Broadband
  • $30
amaysim
amaysim
  • Mobile Broadband Data 6GB Prepaid
  • 6GB Mobile Broadband
  • $35
Yomojo
Yomojo
  • 15GB Data Pack Prepaid
  • 15GB Mobile Broadband
  • $45.90

It is however worth noting that using a phone as a portable hotspot can wreck its battery, which is why a dedicated dongle can be a more attractive option. At the same time, buying a dongle costs money, using a phone you already have is free.

Turn it into a gaming and or multimedia machine


This one isn't super creative, but loading up your old phone full of games and streaming apps is a simple yet practical option. Playing games and watching videos is one of the more battery intensive tasks you can do on your phone, so having a dedicated movie viewing machine for your morning commute isn't a terrible idea. And now that Netflix and Stan let you download videos for offline viewing, you won't even need to put a SIM in it. 

Attach magnets and slap it on your fridge


If you've got a bigger phone, you could always attach a couple of magnets to the back (or onto the back of a case) and pop it on your fridge. Voila, instant smart fridge. Why bother? You could use it for making shopping lists that sync to other devices, browsing recipes when cooking, or even as a way to control any smart home appliances you might have. 

Given that you probably wouldn't be using your fridge phone as much as you'd use a smartphone normally, you should also be able to get away with only charging it every couple of days. 

Hand it down


If you're feeling generous, why not hand down your phone? If this is a path you're looking at going down, you'll need to wipe it first.

If you’re on an iPhone, you'll need to turn off Find My Phone first and sign out of your Apple ID. You can do this by opening Settings, tapping on your name at the top of the menu, and then selecting iCloud. Under the iCloud menu, scroll down to Find My Phone, and toggle it off. After you're done, go back to the previous page (Apple ID) and tap sign out at the bottom. If you don't do this, your Apple ID password will be required to setup the phone after you've wiped it.

After the finishing the previous steps, go back to Settings, tap on General, Reset, and then Erase All Content and Settings. This will wipe your phone clean and reset it to its out of the box factory settings.

The process is similar for Android devices, although they can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. On new Android phones, you'll also need to sign out of your Google account. To do this, open Settings, scroll down to Accounts, then tap Google. Select the account you want to sign out of, then tap the "three dot" icon in the top right hand corner, and choose Remove Account. You'll need to do this for every Google Account on the phone.

When you're done, go back Settings, select Backup & Reset, then choose Factory Data Reset, and then Reset Phone.

Sell it


Or if you'd prefer to get a make a couple of dollarydoos from your old device, selling it is also an option. In general, your best bets are eBay, Gumtree, or selling it to a friend. As simple as they are, trade-in programs such as the ones run by Apple tend to undervalue your phone by potentially a couple of hundred dollars.

Since iPhones almost never go on sale, they tend to be the best at keeping their resale value. For example, I was able to sell a two year old 128GB iPhone 6 Plus for $600 after the iPhone 7 was announced. 

Android flagships don't keep value quite as well, but you can still get a decent amount for a recent top-end Samsung device. Results may vary when it comes to phones from other manufacturers, given the smaller demand. 

As with handing down your phone, make sure you wipe the device before you sell it.


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