TMCnet Feature
July 06, 2021

Why It's Important to Properly Recycle Your Old Smartphone

Reasons to Recycle Your Old Smartphone

Most of us love when it’s time to upgrade our smartphone. Sure, it costs a bit of money and takes some time to transfer everything over. But at the end of the day, you’ll have a piece of much more advanced technology – and access to some impressive new features, such as a better camera, a faster processor, or a smoother interface.

But what do you do with the old smartphone? Depending on the model, you might be tempted to just throw it away and be done with it – but it’s very important to recycle your smartphone properly, as improper disposal can lead to significant ecological damage.

The Effects of Throwing Your Smartphone Away

Throwing your smartphone away will likely cause it to end up in a landfill. That means it will add to the amount of physical waste in a given area, but more importantly, the components of your smartphone can have a direct impact on the environment. Most smartphones contain a variety of heavy metals, including gold, lead, and even mercury; over time, these components will break down and leach into the soil, making it difficult or impossible for anything to grow in the area. In some cases, these elements can even make their way into the local drinking water, impacting the local wildlife population (as well as humans).

If that weren’t enough, you should be aware that many of the elements necessary for smartphone production, including gold and platinum are both rare and finite. Throwing these precious metals away will force smartphone manufacturers to increase demand for rare earth metal mining – an operation that drains us of finite resources and results in environmental damage. Accordingly, properly recycling your smartphone gives you an opportunity to mitigate air and water pollution from mining operations.

How to Recycle a Smartphone

Now you understand why it’s so important to recycle your old smartphone, but how are you supposed to do it?

For starters, make sure you’ve wiped your smartphone of any personal data. You don’t want someone to get ahold of this device and have immediate access to all your old personal information, including emails. Most modern smartphones will have an option in the settings menu allowing you to restore the device back to factory defaults. If you’re really concerned about your personal data, you may consider hiring a professional to completely eradicate your data.

From there, you have a couple of options. One path forward is to sell your phone to a new user. Doing this allows you to recoup some of your costs, sometimes up to a few hundred dollars, and allows your phone to have new life in the hands of someone else. This is especially worthwhile if your phone is only a year or two old. You may even be able to trade your phone in for a new phone, getting a credit you can use for your new purchase.

If your phone is older, or if it’s not working properly, it may be best to work with a professional smartphone recycler. A qualified electronics recycler can quickly and conveniently take consumer electronics, then break them down to their base components and recycle them responsibly.

The process usually goes something like this:

·         Erasure and preparation. Depending on the recycling facility, the professionals here might take extra measures to erase any data that was found on your device. For example, they may rewrite data on your hard drive multiple times to ensure there’s no trace of the original data left. They may also engage in some manner of physical destruction, such as removing and shredding the hard drive or using electromagnetic radiation to wipe it entirely. No matter what, they’ll need to take some time to prepare the device for recycling.

·         Removal of working components. Next, the recycler make take some time to remove any assembled components that are working properly. These can be directly reused in the production of new devices.

·         Destruction. At this point, the smartphone is totally destroyed through a variety of methods. Some recyclers use direct physical destruction to tear the phone apart and get access to the interior components. Depending on the type of phone and which components are sought after, melting might be involved too. The goal here is to get access to the raw materials – which can then be reprocessed and used in future manufacturing efforts.

·         Separation and full recycling. From there, the components of the phone are filtered out and separated so that they can be fully recycled. From a ton of recycled cell phones, a recycler can get more than half a pound of gold, nearly half a pound of elements like palladium and platinum, and more than 300 pounds of copper. And of course, that’s on top of all the plastic and glass that can be recycled from these devices. Some facilities are able to do all the sorting, processing, and repackaging necessary to complete the process in one place. Others may ship different components to different specialist recyclers so they can be broken down and processed correctly. In any case, many manufacturers attempt to purchase recycled materials like these, rather than mining them new.

More Than Just Smartphones

Here’s something else to consider: it’s not just smartphones responsible for environmental damage. Almost any kind of electronic device, including laptops, tablets, and TVs, is going to contain some of the same heavy metals, batteries, and components that can harm the environment. Disposing of these electronics by throwing them away and sending them to a landfill can be just as destructive, so it’s important to sell or recycle these devices as well.

Whether your old smartphone is broken or you’re just in the market for a new one, don’t be tempted to throw your old phone away casually. It doesn’t take much time or effort to drop your phone off at a recycling facility – and you might even earn some money in the process. Taking this step will protect the environment and allow your device to breathe new life into others.

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