How to recycle your mobile phone

If you’re guilty of putting your old mobile phone in a drawer never to be seen again, you’re not alone. A 2022 Which? survey* found that a third of mobile phone owners still have their old devices gathering dust at home, with 43% explaining that they’ve just never gotten around to disposing of them.

Trading in your old phone could get you hundreds of pounds directly into your bank account, or you can donate your phone to charity programs to help those less fortunate get access to technology.

With up to 80% of the materials in every phone being recyclable according to Recycle Now, we must start recycling our old mobile phones – and it’s easier to do than you might think.

Read on to find out the best ways to recycle your phone, and how to dispose of your phone safely without risking your private data.

Ready to buy a new phone? Find out all you need to know best smartphones to buy in 2023.

How to get the most money for your mobile phone

One of the easiest ways to get money for your old phone is to trade it in to a second-hand retailer. The amount of money you’ll receive for your smartphone is based on several factors such as the condition of the device and the amount of internal storage. For example, a working 256GB iPhone 11 is more desirable than a working 128GB iPhone 11. Your phone doesn’t have to be in a working condition to get some cash for it, you’ll just take a hit on how much money you’ ll receive for it.

Unlocked phones – those that aren’t tied to a specific carrier – are generally worth more than mobiles that are tied to a network.

Below, we’ve picked out four popular smartphones released over the past four years. Take a look at our table to see how much you can expect to receive for each of these used mobiles in 2023.

Our experts can help you find top bargains on the latest smartphones. For the details, see our guide on the best mobile phone deals.

It only takes a matter of seconds to find these quotes on the retailers’ websites, so make sure you shop around to get the most money for your device. Most of these companies will only confirm exactly how much they will pay you once they have inspected the phone, so you could end up with a revised quote a few weeks later. You might be able to get a quicker final price and payment by visiting a trade-in shop in person – your local town might have an independent shop or a CeX store, for example.

Once you’ve chosen which online retailer to go with, they will most likely send you a free post label to post your phone to them, requiring little hassle from you.

You’re likely to get the most money by selling your old phone independently through an online marketplace like eBay, although this requires more effort on you to manage the sale and delivery.

You can save even more money on your next mobile phone by buying second hand. Find out all you need to know how to buy a second-hand or refurbished mobile phone.

How to recycle an iPhone using Apple Trade in

Apple can take your device and swap it for credit towards your next purchase, or offer you an Apple gift card for use at any time. If your device isn’t eligible (perhaps it’s damaged beyond repair), they will recycle it for you.

You’ll be provided with a quote for your old device. The Apple Trade In website has a list of price estimates for iPhone models, from the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 13 Pro Max. You can expect to receive anywhere between £40 and £565 for your gadget. Apple says you’ll receive ‘up to £205’ for the iPhone 11.

You can return your old device using a pre-paid trade-in kit that Apple sends, or you can take the product in-store. Apple says the online trade-in process generally takes 2-3 weeks.

How to recycle a Samsung phone using Samsung Trade in

If you’re getting rid of a Samsung mobile (or a non-Samsung phone that you’re replacing with a Samsung device), head to the brand’s website to find out the current value of your handset. If you’re willing to accept the quote, you’ll get an instant discount on your shopping basket when you select your trade-in device. The final step involves shipping off your phone in packaging provided by Samsung.

So how much can you expect to receive for your used phone? The Samsung Trade In website has all the details on phones that qualify for the scheme. For example, if you trade in the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G to buy the Galaxy S20 5G, you can get up to £380 off your next model.

In general, Samsung Trade In is only eligible for working phones that have been wiped of all your personal data (see more on this below), but Samsung’s Cracked Device offer means it might accept your phone if it has a cracked screen or back.

Trade in your old phone through your mobile phone provider

If you’re buying your new phone through a contract, most mobile phone providers will happily take your old phone off your hands and either reduce your repayments for your new phone, or pay you for it directly into your bank account. Check with your new provider for its offers.

Wondering which UK mobile network to go with? Read our expert ratings on best and worst UK mobile networks

How to recycle old mobile phones

Recycle mobile phone

For older phones, you might struggle to find a retailer that’ll give you much money, or any at all. In this instance, your best option is to recycle your phone directly.

National recycling campaign Recycle Now can check if you can recycle your mobile phone at home or at a nearby recycling point so its materials can be used again elsewhere.

How your old mobile phone can help charities

Alternatively, consider charities that accept old mobile phone donations, whether they are in a working condition or not. They will pass on the phones to those who need them, or sell them to raise valuable funds.

  • Fonebank gives you the option to donate a proportion of the value of your phone to the three charities: WaterAid, Oxfam and the National Trust.
  • Little Lives UK has a technology device donations program, which aims to give as many children as possible access to technology. You can donate your unwanted electronic devices in any condition using its free London electronics collection service, or by delivering your phone to one of its charity shops in London. If you live outside London, you can mail the charity to your device with the free postage label they provide.
  • Reconnected by Three is a partnership with GSUK where your phone will go to those who can’t afford to buy the device themselves. The charity will recycle the phone if it fails quality checks. If you use this service, you’ll also get a handy 90 days free on Three’s network.
  • Scope and Action Aid are other large charities that accept mobile phone donations.

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Is my data at risk if I recycle my phone?

You must wipe your device completely before recycling, trading in, or donating your phone – otherwise your apps, photos, messages and maybe even passwords could fall into the wrong hands. Find out below how to back up and transfer your data to your new device, and how to then erase the data on your old phone.

Back up your data

Backing up data is fairly straightforward, but the steps vary slightly depending on the model of phone you have.

  • Backup data on Android You can back up photos and videos to your Google Photos library from your phone. Files and folders can be stored (temporarily or permanently) on Google Drive. To manually back up data and settings, open the Settings app, then tap System > Backup.
  • Backup data on iPhone You can back up your data using iCloud, or a Mac or PC. To use iCloud, go to Settings > [Your name] > iCloud > iCloud Backup. On a computer, simply plug in your iPhone, navigate to iTunes and click Summarythen Back Up Now.

Note that both Google and Apple will automatically back up lots of your information on a regular basis if you have this feature enabled – it could offer peace of mind if you’re worried about losing your phone.

If both your old and new phones are enabled for a micro-SD card, another option is to upload your data on to an SD card to transfer to your new phone.

Buy a new phone before you sell your old one

The majority of phones now have a pre-installed switching app that lets you move across your old files to your replacement handset. If you decide to use this method, we suggest holding on to your old phone for a week or so, so you have time to ensure everything is moved across and that you’re happy with the replacement.

  • Move from iPhone to Android Turn on your new Android phone, tap Start and, when asked, choose to Copy apps and data from your old phone. See Google’s advice page on switching to a new Android phone.
  • Move from Android to iPhone Make sure the internet on your Android is turned on. On your iPhone, look for the Apps & Data screen, then tap Move Data from Android. On your Android, open the Move to iOS app find an oath Continue. Follow the on-screen instructions. See Apple’s advice page on moving from Android to iPhone.

Erase your phone data

Once you’re certain that you’ve removed all the important files from your phone and backed them up elsewhere, you’re ready to run a factory reset.

A factory reset will revert your phone back to the way it was when you first unboxed it. That means the only files kept on the mobile will be vital OS files and pre-installed apps and images. Running through this process will give you peace of mind when it comes to selling – you’ll be handing over a phone that has none of your personal information on it.

  • Factory reset on Android – Head to yours Settings menu and look for the Reset option. See Google’s advice page on resetting your Android device to factory settings.
  • Factor reset on iPhone – Head to Settings > General > Reset and choose to Reset All Settings. See Apple’s advice page on returning iPhone settings to their defaults.

Should I recycle a phone that I can’t switch on?

If you’re unable to perform a factory reset on your device because it’s not currently working, your data could still be recoverable, which means there is a risk if you hand it over to a company or new owner. Second-hand retailers and online marketplaces generally have disclaimers explaining that they are not responsible for your private data once you hand it over.

You could look into sending your phone to a data recovery company to get your data out, but they will charge you a fee to do so. Ultimately, only trade in your phone if you feel comfortable about handing over the data you previously had on there. For example, if you’re phone is particularly old without any saved passwords on it, the risks might be minor.

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* Based on survey data Which? members and members of the public in March 2022, covering 20,659 smartphones.

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