Dispose of your cell phone safely

Before you recycle, resell, donate or simply dispose of the phone, take a few steps to protect yourself and the environment

If you own a cell phone, at some point you may need to replace it, whether to upgrade or just get another one. What should you do with the old phone? Here are a few options: recycle, resell, donate or simply dispose of the phone, but keep the environment in mind.

But before you do any of these the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to dispose of it properly. There may be personal or sensitive information on the phone, so treat it like you would if you were disposing of a personal computer: wipe out all the sensitive information.

Removing information
Any encrypted passwords, personal contacts, photos and web search terms may be recoverable with relatively simple and inexpensive software programs. One of the first steps would be to remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from the phone. You could also command the cell phone to delete certain data, but that only deletes the location of the data; the actual information stays on the phone’s operating system.

You may need to clear data from the phone’s contacts and other stored information. Check the owner’s manual or provider’s website, some will even help you save or transfer information to your new device. Other data could include the phone book, any lists of calls, voicemail, sent and received email or text messages, organizer folders, web search history and photos.

Disposal options
Once your phone is “clean” you can dispose of it in several ways:

  • Recycle – through the manufacturer, service providers and non-profit groups.
  • Donate – many organizations collect old mobile phones for charitable purposes.
  • Resell – some people or organization will buy old phones.
  • Dispose of in the trash – remember phones contain batteries or heavy metals which should not be put in the trash. Whatever you choose keep yourself and the environment protected.

For more information visit: the Federal Trade Commission website or, for recycling information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

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