Everything you need to know about mobile phone recycling

Mobile phone recyclers take old, unwanted devices and dispose of them in an environmentally responsible way - and they'll pay you for the privilege. But what is mobile recycling exactly, what phones can you sell, and what happens to them afterwards?

Read on, and we'll tell you everything worth knowing about mobile recycling, and - if you want to sell your handset - how to get the best price.

What is mobile phone recycling?

Here's the thing about smartphones - they only last so long. At some point, we all have to upgrade to a newer, faster, more secure model… but what happens to our technologically outdated wonder-slabs?

Many people take the easy option - jam it in a drawer and forget about it. Others just chuck it in the bin. That's a mistake - mobile phones contain components that are potentially damaging to the environment, or could be reused for other devices. It also adds to the ever-expanding problem of ever-expanding landfill sites.

The best option, both financially and ethically, is to sell your phone to a recycling company. If it's still in reasonable nick, they'll typically refurbish it and sell it for a reduced price, often in developing countries. Alternatively, they may dismantle it and remove reusable components or, if it really is a clapped old banger of a handset, they'll dispose of the insides properly.
Which mobile phones can be recycled?

Most smartphones can be sold to recyclers, though you may be out of luck if you own a particularly ancient or obscure handset. Most people, however, should be able to find at least one or two recycling firms willing to buy their stuff.

Of course, the majority of people have well-known Android handsets or iPhones, and they'll be taken by pretty much anyone. Some of the more popular mobile phones sent to recyclers via CompareMyMobile include:

How do I recycle my mobile phone?

If you want to recycle your phone, you need to send it to a recycling company. Fortunately, there are loads across the UK ready to pay you for your old tech, and they make it as easy as possible. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Compare prices on CompareMyMobile - head over to our comparison page. Tap in the type of device you want to sell, and you can see valuations from lots of different recycling companies.
  2. Choose a recycler - when you find a deal you like, click the link beside it, and we'll send you to their website where you can confirm you want to sell.
  3. Send off your handset - most recyclers will send you a pre-paid envelope, so all you have to do is drop in your phone and send it back out. We recommend you use Special Delivery, so you can track your phone.
  4. Get paid - when the recycler gets your phone, they'll test it and often send out payment on the same day. You can usually choose how you want to get the money - direct debit, cheque, postal order or even vouchers in some cases.

Things to consider before you sell:

While selling your phone isn't particularly difficult, there are some things you can do to make the process even smoother.

Be honest about the condition of your phone

It may be tempting to say your phone is in better condition than it is in order to get the best possible quote, but seriously - DO NOT DO THIS.

Every single device sent to a recycler will be gone over with a fine tooth comb and if the condition doesn't match what you say, your quote will be revised and payment potentially delayed until you confirm.

If you don't want to accept the quote, the recycler will send the phone back to you - but bear in mind that some will charge for this.

So avoid all the faff, and tell the truth. It's much easier in the long run.

Unlock your phone and wipe your data

Make sure you unlock your phone before you sell it - the recycler won't be able to pay you if they can't even access it.
You should also factory reset the device to erase personal information, contact numbers, and photos. If you forget to do it, the recycler will wipe the device anyway, but things are a lot easier and safer if the phone comes to them squeaky-clean.

Besides you don't want a stranger seeing any sexy selfies, right?

Send via special delivery

Most recyclers send you a pre-paid envelope to send out your device, but we recommend you still spring for special delivery if you can. It means your order is tracked and insured, so if it gets lost or opened (rare, but not unheard of) in the post, you can find it or get compensation.

Can I sell a damaged phone?

Some recyclers will buy broken phones from you - depending on the condition. For example, a cracked screen or extreme physical damage will be accepted by most companies. On the other hand, if you have battery issues, or the device is completely non-functional, the pool of options will be more limited.

It's still worth checking though - just bear in mind that you'll get a much lower quote than if it was in good nick (but remember - don't lie about the condition).

Sell your broken phone

How do you determine the condition of your phone?

Phones typically fall into three categories:

  • New - brand new, never even been turned on
  • Good, working or used - has been used, but is largely undamaged and functioning properly (small scuffs and scratches are usually fine)
  • Broken - has suffered major damage like a cracked screen, extreme scuffing or scratching, or faulty components.

Unfortunately there's no industry-wide system for determining phone condition (though we think there should be!) Different recycling companies may have their own specific criteria - they should make this clear when you click through to their site.

Can you trust mobile phone recyclers?

If a company is listed on CompareMyMobile, it means we trust them.

We vet every single recycler on our site, and will only show you their prices if we believe they'll treat you honestly and reliably.

That said, if you really aren't sure about a company, you can always stick to a well-known brand like O2 or Music Magpie. You may not necessarily get the best quote, but if it gives you peace of mind that's ultimately for the good.

How does mobile phone recycling work? What happens to your handset?

What happens to your phone next depends a great deal on what condition it’s in.

  • If your phone's in good nick, it'll be refurbished and likely sold online - either on the recycler's stores (or affiliate stores), or via marketplaces like Amazon.
  • Some used phones will be tidied up a little and sold to developing countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. This is a great way to get useful technology into the hands of those who otherwise couldn't afford it.
  • If your phone is broken, useful materials, including plastic, metal and some internal components, will be broken down and resold. Any parts that can't be reused will be removed and disposed of as safely as possible.