The Best Ways To Recycle Last Year's Tech

Photographed By Anna Alexia Basile.
Whether you got a new phone for Christmas or your New Year's resolution is to declutter your space, one thing's for sure: You need to do something about the collection of old phones in your pad.

Keeping your old phone forgotten in a dusty drawer does nothing for you, or the phone. Instead, gather it and get rid of it the right way — through recycling or donation.

If your first thought is, Ugh, that sounds like so much work, guess what? It's actually not! Your wireless carrier, your phone manufacturer, and even nonprofit organizations want to make it as easy as possible for you to get your unused phone into the hands of someone who needs it. Your old iPhone could save someone's life. And if it's too cracked and broken to be worth using, that's okay, too — recyclers may still find useful components inside that they can pay you for.

We promise: Once your old phone is gone, you won't miss it, and you may even feel good about its new home. Here's how to resell, recycle, or reuse the tech you don't use anymore.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Use a Carrier Buy-Back Program
Most wireless carriers offer buy-back programs to take your old phone off your hands. Generally, you fill out a form describing what product you've got and its condition, they'll give you an estimate of its value and send you a prepaid box or shipping label, you mail in the old phone, and then you get paid. Your wireless provider will either get it cleaned and fixed up so they can sell it refurbished, or, if it's in bad shape, they will send it to a recycler.

Here are links to AT&T's, Verizon's, Sprint's, and T-Mobile's buy-back programs.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Recycle It With the Manufacturer
Gadget makers such as Apple and Samsung also offer their own buy-back and recycling programs, and they work the same way as carrier buy-back programs: Fill out information about the device online, send off your old phone or tablet (they pay for shipping), and then you're sent some money. With these programs, you can often send back any old computer or phone, whether or not it still works (Apple will even recycle PCs for you!). It will then get sent to a recycler, who will break it apart, take out the components that are worth reselling (that's why you often get paid in these scenarios), and properly dispose of the rest.

Here you can check out Apple's, Samsung's, Dell's, and Lenovo's programs, but many other device manufacturers also offer recycling and buy-back services.
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Photo: Courtesy EcoATM.
Drop It Off at a Recycling Kiosk
The next time you head to the mall or the grocery store, grab your old phones and bring them with you. Recyclers such as ecoATM have kiosks at a variety of locations, including Safeway stores and malls. You place your device in the testing station, it runs some tests to determine the device's condition and value, and then it gives you money for your old gadgets on the spot — kind of like a Coinstar machine.
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Photo: Courtesy Verizon.
Donate It
If you don't care about making a quick buck, there are a ton of charitable organizations that desperately need old cell phones.

You can donate a phone to Verizon's HopeLine program to support survivors and victims of domestic violence, or to Hope Phones to help fund health-care programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

You can also donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers to provide troops with free communication services. Or you can donate to Secure the Call, an organization that gives 911-capable phones to domestic violence shelters, senior citizen centers, and police and sheriff departments so community members can contact police or medical services in an emergency.
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Photo: Courtesy iFixit.
Don't Throw Your Old Phone Away
Whatever you do, do not toss your old electronics, particularly phones and iPods, in the trash. Batteries, disposed of in a landfill, can leech harmful chemicals into the environment. But on top of that, lithium-ion batteries, which are popular in mobile devices, pose an additional risk: If overheated, or smashed or punctured, they can actually catch fire or explode.

Visit this site for more detailed information on different types of batteries, and how you can properly dispose of them in your area.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Don't Forget to Erase It First
Before you sell or donate your old phone, be sure to back it up and then erase its contents.

iPhone owners, you'll want to make sure your photos and videos are backed up to iCloud, or synced to another cloud storage option like Dropbox. Alternatively, you can plug your old handset into your computer and offset all the photos manually. After you've done that, you'll want to sign out of iCloud and then delete that account from the phone. Then, head to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. Your phone should now be ready for its new owner.

The process for Android phone owners is similar. Remove the SIM card and memory card (if applicable) if you haven't already. Back up your phone (Google makes this process pretty easy), then go back into the settings, find the Backup/Restore section, and Factory Reset your phone.

If you want, you can wipe down your old phone and put it back in its original box before you send it back, too. But the most important thing is to make sure you have the data you want off the phone, and that you are logged out of all accounts before it leaves your hands.