Mobile phones are more popular now than they've ever been. Some people like to keep the same device for years on end, whilst others like to have the latest model at all times. However often you replace your mobile phone, it's likely that you've wondered about how you should get rid of your older model.

Recent figures show that there are approximately 15 million unused mobile phones in households across the UK. One of the most popular reasons that Britons keep their old mobile phones is in case their new phone breaks, but there are some people who keep them simply because they don't know to dispose of the devices safely.

It can seem like a good idea to throw your old phone in your household bin, but this could end up harming your local environment. Phones, like any electronic device, need to be disposed of through the proper means. While this may sound like a hassle, there are actually a number of quick and easy ways to get rid of your old phone.

In this article, we'll look at where you can safely dispose of your old mobile phone, as well as explain what happens to your phone once you part with it.

It's not advisable to put your mobile phone in your general waste bin. E-waste, which is anything with electronic components, will take millions of years to break down and will release harmful chemicals as it does so. There are about 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced each year around the world. Much of the waste is sent abroad, where it is burned in factories. This releases toxins that are harmful to human health.

Luckily, mobile phones only make up approximately 7% of e-waste in the world. Most people recycle their old devices or keep them as a backup in case their new phone breaks. You can also try and sell your phone or trade it in so that you can put the money towards getting an upgraded model.

It's important that you remove your personal data and files from your old device before you get rid of it. This is to stop someone else from accessing the phone and gaining possession of your personal information and media. You also need to remove the SIM card and memory card, which can be used with your new mobile phone. After you have transported your files and data to the cloud or your new device, you should factory reset your old mobile phone.

On an Apple iPhone, you will need to go into your device's settings, go into General and tap Reset. You should then select Erase All Content and Settings.

On Android devices, you will need to tap System within the Settings app, select Advanced and then Rest Options. Next, you will need to tap on Erase All Data, followed by Reset Phone. At this point, you will be prompted to enter your PIN and asked to confirm that you want to erase your device.

Factory resetting a phone will stop the average person from accessing your personal data and files, but someone with the know-how could potentially recover the deleted information on your phone until the old data is overwritten. Some people choose to dismantle their old phones themselves and break the different components into pieces so that the information can't be accessed. If you choose to do this, make sure that you properly dispose of the phone fragments and battery in purpose-built phone bins. You can also cut up the SIM card so that it can't be inserted into another device. You can throw the pieces into your general waste bin.

The first step is to return to the place that you bought your phone from and see if they can recycle the device. Most phone shops have a recycling system for older phone models or a credit incentive when you hand in a newer phone model. Alternatively, you can look at reselling your phone if it's still in a good condition. You are likely to get more money for your old phone if it still has the original box, user instructions and charger with it.

You can find out more about how to recycle mobile phones by visiting the national Recycle Now™ website. Depending on your postcode, your local council may be able to collect the device from your home. If this service isn't available in your area, you will have to take it to a specialist recycling point.

When old mobile phones are taken to recycling centres, they are dismantled if they are deemed obsolete. 80% of materials in mobile phones can be recycled and turned into new components. Mobile phones feature various different metals, such as silver, gold and copper. During the recycling process, these materials are extracted, melted down and turned into new parts. The nickel from the phone's battery can even be extracted and used to create stainless steel.

There are unlimited uses for the materials from old electronic devices. In 2020, the medals from the Tokyo Olympics were made from recycled metals from over 47,000 tones of mobile phones and other electronic devices. The plastic casing for mobile phones can be melted down and turned into plastic sheets. These sheets can be used to make any number of plastic items.

Mobile phones also contain dangerous elements such as mercury, lead and cadmium, which can damage the local water and soil if they aren't disposed of properly. This is also why you shouldn't dispose of mobile phones in your general waste, as the materials will end up in the landfill and consequently the ecosystem.

Tech stores such as Apple and Currys have recycling systems that you can use to dispose of your old devices. The Apple Trade-In service lets you dispose of your old iPhone in exchange for credit that you can put towards your next purchase. They also give out Apple Gift Cards if you'd prefer that over credit. Only certain devices are eligible for the trade-in — the earliest model Apple will accept is the iPhone 7. You could end up receiving up to £625 in credit if you trade in the latest iPhone model.

Currys' recycling initiative lets you trade in your old device in exchange for a Currys gift card. The electronics retailer will even wipe your phone for you so that your personal data and files are properly erased.

Some local councils offer kerbside collection for small electronics, including mobile phones. You will usually be asked to leave the old mobile devices with your rubbish bins, although it's important to keep them in a separate container or bag.

Most older mobile phones won't have the same software and security updates that newer models do. This means that the device may be more susceptible to malware and bugs, which is useful to remember if you plan on passing the phone on to a new owner.

In this digital age, the most popular way to sell an item is online. You could try to sell your phone on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree if you want to find more local buyers. eBay is another popular site where you are likely to get a better price for your device.

You could try and set your price based on the listings of similar models on comparison sites. Android devices usually sell for less than iPhones of the same generation. This is because older Android phones don't continue receiving system updates after a certain age, whereas Apple still offers them to older iPhones. Some reports indicate that Apple devices retain 15% more of their value than comparable Android devices.

Just because your phone is broken doesn't mean that you can't still sell it. You may be able to find a recycling company that accepts phones even if they are damaged or completely broken. You'll get less money for older models or phones with severe damage, but you may still get a small sum of money. The recycling companies can strip the devices, take out the materials with value and sell them on to be made into new products.

Charities such as Oxfam and WaterAid will usually accept mobile phones if you donate them, as long as they still receive security updates. Older devices are less likely to receive updates and therefore aren't able to be sold on. If your phone is successfully donated, the charity will try to resell the device if it's in a good condition. The money from the sale will be funnelled back into the charity. If the device can't be resold, the phone will be taken to a mobile phone recycling branch, where it will be dismantled, and any useful components will be processed and used in new electronic devices.

Some of the most popular charities to donate your old mobile phone to include:

  • Oxfam
  • Little Lives UK
  • WaterAid
  • The British Heart Foundation
  • Hubbub 02
  • The Great British Tech Appeal programme (by Vodafone)
  • Reconnected Scheme by Three

Before you dispose of your phone, you need to make sure that you have fully wiped it. This can usually be done by removing the SIM card and factory resetting the device. However, to be on the safe side, you could also dismantle the phone and smash it to pieces so that there's no chance of anyone recovering the deleted files and data.

You can try and sell your phone online or by taking it to a second-hand shop. Most phone and technology companies will also let you trade in your old device in exchange for store credit or gift cards. Charities also tend to accept mobile phones in the way of donations, as they can sell the device as it is or sell it to recycling centres. However, some places won't accept phones older than a certain age because they no longer get system and security updates.