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What happens to phones when they're recycled?

Below details the 3 core routes you old mobile takes when it's recycled...

  • Re-used in the UK
  • Refurbised and sent around the world
  • Recycled for raw parts

There are endless benefits to recycling our old gadgets - being green, saving the environment from toxic chemicals (as seen in our blogs infographic), extracting useful materials and, obviously, making a few quid. But what happens after you've sent your phone off and got your cash. Your old machine could be in for quite the journey!

Looking for research or doing a feature on phone recycling? Visit our press page or simply download everything you'll need in this free pack!

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Re-Used: What happens to recycled phones?

The brilliant thing about recycling your old handset is that, in full working condition, it can be re-used by someone else. We asked several recyclers to comment on it in our blog, it's worth checking it out!

Reused in the UK

Firstly, there are the obvious ways that gadgets are re-used. People don't even know they are doing it most of the time. We're talking about eBay, Gumtree, other free ad sites - places you can sell your old machines. Yep, that's right. Or even giving products to another friend or family member. You're re-using.

The important thing is that these electronics do not end up in landfill, releasing toxic chemicals and wasting valuable materials. So by selling your devices, however you are doing it, you're doing a good thing. eBay and free ad sites ensure that working phones are re-used, and this gives people who could not afford the latest gadget the chance to enjoy up to date technology. It's a win-win situation really.

Recycling sites and in store trade ins

Another way which tends to result in gadgets being re-used is by store trade ins. Many networks or high street phone stores allow you to trade-in your old working handset for a discount on your new shiny toy. These can then be sent on to recycling companies, to make them look as good as new.

Of course, you can also use recycling comparison sites like us, which show you the best value you can get for your handset from top recyclers. These recyclers can take a working phone, test it, make it look as good as new and then send it on to be re-used.

Where they end up

In these cases, there's a good chance your phone could go on to be sold in developing countries such as India or Africa. This gives people great communication in places that do not have many landlines, and allows small businesses to thrive selling these second-hand phones for a small profit.

It's astonishing how big the market for used phones is - people love getting up-to-date technology for what they feel is a bargain. But what happens afterwards? Many would argue that this is just putting off the phone inevitably ending up in landfill. Not if responsible companies can help it.

Nokia and Motorola both run take back schemes - allowing people to drop unwanted or broken phones at the nearest shop. These phones will be passed on yet again for further use. They run these all over the world, including in developing countries, with the aim of reducing the risk of the third world turning into a junk yard for old electronics. They want to further the recycling process.


See, quite a journey for your phone. After being in your pockets for a year, and abroad for another, your phone could then be refurbished to full working order and end up back in Europe. It could end up with insurance companies - for use as a replacement for people with broken phones.

Refurbished: How are mobile phones refurbished?

Despite many phones coming into mobile recycling companies in full working order, this is not true of all of them. A well-used phone most probably won't escape without a few bumps and scratches along the way. But, if lots of people send in their broken phones we are able to find parts to make some flashy working ones - and that is just what recyclers do.

Small phone recycling / refurbishment companies

Not all phones will get sent out of the country though, some smaller mobile recyclers like to keep things simple - refurbishing the phones themselves before selling them on eBay, other websites or to small stand alone stores. The demand for cheaper brilliant technology means that small business like this can boom.

Large phone recycling / refurbishment companies

Most recycling companies that buy your phone aren't the ones who fix them. Once tested at UK Test Centres, they could be sold to factories in countries such as Europe, China, Africa or India to be refurbished. But this is also where UK recycling firms such as Regenersis and Anovo can come in. Whether it is just a cosmetic touch up or a full on refurbishment, these companies give your old technologies a new lease of life.

If it's just a little touch up, many can go on to third world countries to be re-used and re-loved by new owners. This gives emerging markets a great way to gain access to the latest technology.

This is also true of phones collected though programmes such as the Motorola Take Back, where people can hand their old handsets in. They often receive broken unwanted phones. By refurbishing them and putting them back together, they can be sent to developing countries to sell at low prices.

Third world benefits

The benefits of phones being sent to third world nations can be huge. Mobile phones can provide people with a means of communication when they have no landline. They allow people to transfer money to their families, especially those who do not have banks. As well as this, the improved communication could mean a faster pace to business, which could be great for the economy.

I know, aren't the perks of recycling just endless?

And get this, fully re-furbished phones are often used by insurance companies in the UK as replacement devices for when your new snazzy phone breaks. Just imagine, you break your new phone and it could just be your old one which saves you from barred communication for a few weeks. Splendid.

Recycled: How are mobile phones recycled?

All the things we have been talking about on our other pages are recycling. But now we're here to talk about recycling as you imagine it - stripping the phones down completely and using parts for all kinds of exciting things.

As talked about in the 'Re-used' section, there are people who will try and sell on eBay. For those DIY experts out there, if you want to buy the parts to put your phone back together, you may well be able to. Keen eBayers list parts of mobile phones to sell every day, allowing you to put your phones back together and sell them for a better price.

Parts sold in developing markets

In developing countries, such as China, you can even see back street stalls selling all kinds of parts for people to do this - truly taking advantage of the second-hand market.

If you can put your phone back together so it can be re-used that's great. But there are some phones that are completely just, well, past it. As brilliant as it is to try and get as much use out of your little device as possible, sometimes you just have to accept defeat. If you have sent your phone to a top recycler who can't refurbish it, they will then send it to a registered recycling company, and break it all down!

How old phone recycling parts are used

It is quite outstanding how many materials can be drawn out of a phone. For example, batteries can be removed and taken to approved recyclers in OECD countries (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). These recyclers can process batteries for Nickel, used for stainless steel production to create kitchenware, cadmium and cobalt, which can produce new batteries and copper which can go on to be used in a range of things. And that's just the battery.

Recycled metals in a mobile device

The circuit boards are known for containing silver, copper, platinum and even gold - materials which usually have to be mined for. In fact, there are 0.2 grams of gold in every phone. Due to the demand for materials to put in new technologies in the first place, as well as everything else we use on a daily basis, there is a huge strain on third world mine workers.

By recycling our mobile phones and therefore re-using some of these valuable entities, we can reduce this strain and support our own technological addiction. Let's face it, for some of us, living without a phone would prove to be stressful.

Even the plastic on the phone can be sent to a recycler to make, well, just about anything. All of these materials do not have to be wasted - we can make them last longer simply by recycling.


Recycling your phone is a brilliant thing to do, even if by searching for it on shows you are not going to get any money for it. Some organisations will accept phones as charitable donations and break down the phones to ensure they don't end up in landfill. Or some phone repair workshops say if they can't fix your phone they will buy it from you for parts and donate money to charity on your behalf.

So there are so many reasons to feel good about recycling, it really is the right thing to do. So check out and view your options now.

Poisonous facts about your mobile phone!

How does a mobile damage the environment?

Upon visiting some of the larger recycling sites, you'll see they use the environment as a reason for recycling, so we thought we'd research it and find out the truth behind the these so called deadly mother nature killers! The fact is your phone (however safe while you're using it) is full of all sorts of chemicals and toxins that can be harmful to the environment.

Below are some interesting facts and findings as to why mobile phone recycling actually does count as a legitimate method of reusing and disposing of these materials.

So what could a single mobile phone and battery do?

A single battery made with Cadmium is like a pollution missile. To put this seemingly off the cuff statement in a horrific fact;

One single little Cadmium battery can pollute:
600 thousand litres of water

A year's worth of batteries could pollute:
80 Billion Olympic swimming pools

Recipe for danger: What's inside the mobile?

These are the ingredients in your mobile phone and its battery which cause issues when not disposed correctly. They all DO NOT break down naturally in landfills and in fact continue to release toxic chemicals whilst they lay there.

Banned for use in electronics by the European Union on 2004. Dangerous if inhaled or ingested, some cases of inhaling will lead to metal fume fever, and this could result in death.

Dangerous to animals and human nervous systems and causes brain disorders. It has a neurotoxin that can gather in soft tissue and bones in mammals often known as 'lead poisoning'

Used in many common consumer gadgets. The mining of this metal is said to be the cause of much child labour conflict in places such as the Congo. This also causes mass erosion of the land bringing pollution to lakes and rivers as well as reducing the population of the Eastern Mountain Gorilla.

Hazards include; Toxic poisoning due to inhaling the chemical, Tissue corrosion of plants and animals and can bring out a life threatening disease called Berylliosis.

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