Cash for e-trash: what to do with your old smartphone


Did you just get a new cell phone? Don’t throw the old one on the shelf so quickly, it’s worth the money.

New cell phones are hitting the market more often than ever, which means old phones are definitely on the hook. Unfortunately, many electronic devices, like old phones, end up in a landfill rather than a recycling plant.

This year alone, the Iowa Environmental Services recycled 125,000 pounds of electronics. But that number could be better. Today, less than a third of electronic devices are properly disposed of.

“There’s really no reason not to recycle, whether it’s a cell phone or a computer,” Marty Rolfes, president of Iowa Environmental Services, told

Even the most basic cell phone contains precious metals. Copper, silver, lead and gold can mean that a mountain of old cell phones turns into a mine of value.

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“Landfills can’t take them anymore, so something has to happen to them and we have to continue to recycle and keep these precious metals,” said York Taenzer, senior vice president of environmental services for Iowa.

Rolfes said while people want to recycle responsibly, they often don’t know where to get their recyclables. But he stressed how important it is to keep electronic devices out of the trash.

“It keeps the dangerous part out of the ground. We don’t know what effect it will have in 20, 30, 40, 50 years, but we can just eliminate it by recycling,” Rolfes said.

Want a way to collect your electronic waste? One way to see green to be green is ecoATM. Kiosk-like machines have only been around since 2011, but appear in malls across the country and can accept cellphones and tablets. Once the item is in the machine, it determines its value and makes an offer for how much it will pay.

The phones in ecoATMs are recycled if they are unusable, or they are refurbished and given new life if the phone can be salvaged.

“We’ve seen the same phone go through ecoATM three times. It’s the best kind of recycling to reuse things,” said Mark Bowles, founder of ecoATM.

The EPA estimates that in one year, the energy saved by each ecoATM is the equivalent of 21 off-grid homes. This comes from not needing to create so many new phones and recovered gold.

“Technology is a way to solve some of the problems that technology itself has created,” Bowles told He also said they expect to collect their two millionth cell phone by Thanksgiving this year.

There are countless other programs aimed at helping people easily recycle their unwanted electronic devices. Most chain stores that sell electronics like Best Buy, Staples, or RadioShack have their own recycling programs.

There are also websites dedicated to buying old electronics like or

Phones and other electronic devices can also be donated to The Salvation Army, Goodwill or an organization like Cell Phones for Soldiers, which provides active-duty troops with cell phones to call home. Since 2004, Cell Phones for Soldiers estimates that they have saved more than ten million phones from being thrown in the trash.

Whether it’s recycling money or just freeing up desk drawer space, responsibly disposing of unwanted electronics is easier and more profitable than ever.

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