With the death or upgrade of every cell phone comes the inevitable question of what do to with the old phone and its accouterments. It’s easy to end up with a drawer full of tangled cords, dead batteries, and other components, promising yourself that you’ll deal with it all someday, but why not turn over a new leaf? There are a lot of things you can do with leftover cell phone chargers and other accessories, as well as the phones themselves.
Don't Just Throw Them Away
For starters, don’t throw them away. Electrical components can contain a variety of heavy metals and other toxins that you don’t want released into the natural environment. Instead, you’re going to have to recycle them or find a way for them to be reused.
Back up and Wipe Data
But, before you start, remember to wipe your data. While recycling and donation programs promise to remove old data from any phones processed through their facilities, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you back up your contacts list, save any old messages, photos, and other data you care about, and then restore your phone to the factory default. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask your cell phone provider for help.
Responsible e-waste recycling involves breaking equipment down to its components, processing and reusing some in the production of new equipment, and safely disposing of others. A lot of electronics stores have collection bins for recycling, and you may also be able to find one at a waste management facility, post office, or environmental organization. Storefronts for cellular providers may also have an e-waste program for their customers, and some allow people to mail in old phones and components. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list with many major US carriers right here.
Your other option is reuse. You might want to start with family and friends. Contractors in big cities like Houston often need cell phones for their crews, and might be willing to take a used cell phone. Someone might need a charger, cable, or converter, and could be happy to take your old one off your hands. USB cables are often useful, for example, and that way at least part of an old cell phone charger could get a new lease on life.
Electronics education programs sometimes have a use for old components; you can contact the instructor to see if they are accepting donations, and what kinds of items they need. Don’t dump components outside an electronics classroom or education facility, though, because then they’ll be saddled with the cost of disposing of them if they don’t want them.
Another option is to sell your old phone charger. If it’s in good condition and a model that’s in high demand, you might be able to sell it to another consumer looking for a better deal than the cell phone provider can offer on a replacement. You can also sell your phone the same way. Especially if you have an unlocked cell phone that will work on any network, you may be able to find a buyer quickly by listing it on an electronics trade, swap, or sale site.
You can also connect with organizations that send cell phones and chargers on to new users who might not otherwise be able to afford them. Many people upgrade their phones regularly and dispose of phones and equipment that are perfectly functional. These may be refurbished and sold or given to communities who need them; for example, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence collects old cell phones for victims and families, and so does the HopeLine program. These programs distribute phones, chargers, and more to people as well as selling them for breakdown and recycling, using the funds to support their work.
Updated March 20, 2018.