Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What to Do With an Old Cell Phone

If you're like most people, you probably have a few old cell phones lying around gathering dust.  Every time your cell phone contract renews, you end up with a shiny new phone to replace your old phone, and the old phone ends up in a drawer somewhere -- or, worse, the trash.  In fact, thanks to the relentless forward march of technology, about 130 million cell phones or 65,000 tons, are thrown away every year in the U.S.  Not only does this take up a lot of space, it poses an environmental risk because electronics like phones and computers have a number of dangerous chemicals in them including arsenic, cadmium and lead.  These inevitably end in the water supply, where they can kill wildlife and cause birth defects. 

So instead of throwing away your old cell phone, here's a few ideas for things you can do with it: 

  1. Use it (and avoid paying a phone contract ever again). Here's a win-win for you.  You can save money and avoid being tied down to a contract by using your old phone.  There's a few options for this.  The easiest is to use a prepaid provider and load up the phone with minutes or a data plan.  You can also connect to WiFi from most smart phones and use Google Voice or Skype to make the phone totally usable from anywhere with an Internet connection. 
  2. Re-use it as something else.  Even if you don't use the phone to make calls, you can still use all of its other nifty features.  Use it instead of a Kindle to read e-books.  Play games on it; you can download an emulator and play various other console games on your phone very easily.  Ir you don't want it, give it to a kid in your life.  A used smart phone pre-loaded with apps is a fantastic way to satisfy their hankering for a smart phone without needing to actually give them a fully-functional phone.  If your phone doesn't work at all, you can give it to a younger child to use as a toy; just be sure there's nothing that can be swallowed or anything before you hand it over.  
  3. Recycle it. When you think of recycling, the image that pops into your head is probably plastic bottles.  But in truth, electronics are some of the most important items to recycle and dispose of properly.  You can drop off your phone at a recycling point at most phone and electronics stores, or you can even mail it in.  Depending on the model of your phone, you could even be paid for recycling it.  
  4. Donate it.  Some recycling bins for phones have a separate compartment for cell phones that are still in working order so you can donate them.  Some charities even accept donations of non-working phones.  Check with your favorite charity to see if they need phones.  For example, some women's shelters use old cell phones to give women a way to call for help.  A charity my friend works for, Water for the People, uses modified old cell phones as GPS trackers to help them navigate developing countries.  There are a ton of cell phone donation programs; just type in "cell phone donations in (your area)" in Google to find one you'd like.  
  5. Scrap it.  You might be surprised at how much a cell phone is worth once you break it up into all of its valuable parts.  Electronics all have a small amount of precious metals like gold and platinum, and these can be re-sold for cash money.  You can also pull out an undamaged SD card and use it in a digital camera or other device.  Be sure to pull out the battery and either re-use it, sell it, donate it or recycle it as many of the worst environmental hazards are in the battery.  
If you want to make a little extra money and help make a difference in the environment at the same time, you can make a side business of collecting and scrapping cell phones.  Advertise your services and go around neighborhoods to collect old phones and other unwanted electronics.  Scrap them for all of the usable pieces and sell the profitable parts, then recycle the rest.  You can also pick up cheap unwanted phones at thrift stores, yard sales, eBay and Craigslist; people will part with them for just a few dollars and you can easily make back your investment. 

Ever since David gave me my new-used Android, he's been learning all about things you can do with old cell phones.  As I learn more, I might post more tips for you.  I'll also see if I can get a guest post or v-log out of him showing you exactly how to set up your phone online, scrap it for gold etc.  

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