Everything You Need to Know About Recycling an iPhone

As tempting as it may be, throwing away your old iPhone, no matter its age or cosmetic condition, is a terrible idea. You may not realize it—but the components that make your iPhone function should be properly disposed of, lest they take up space in a landfill or, even worse, pollute the environment because they aren’t recycled.

But where can you even go to have your iPhone recycled? It’s not like you can throw the device into your recycling bin at home. You may even face a fine by your city if they’ve found that you have improperly disposed of an electronic device carrying inside of it a lithium-ion battery. Even worse, some recycling programs could even offer you some cash, while others may charge you for the service of disposal. It’s important to understand iPhone recycling, know your options, and know which service will benefit you the most.

Why Should You Recycle Your iPhone?

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To you, your iPhone resembles the sum of its parts—a smartphone that may or may not be taking up extra space in your junk drawer. However, to the environment, your iPhone can be a source of hazardous materials that can harm the ecosystem at large. The iPhone, for instance, contains such harmful materials as mercury, lead, cadmium, flame retardants, and even arsenic! None of these materials should be allowed to leach into the environment, where they can contaminate the local water supply or harm the local wildlife if left unchecked.

Moreover, precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium, and copper are used in your iPhone. Proper recycling can reclaim 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35,274 pounds of copper for every one million cellphones that are recycled and dismantled! (source)

Recycling electronics also reduces the power consumed in managing our trash, which ultimately saves energy. In short, recycling minimizes the potential damage done by hazardous materials in your iPhone, reclaims the previous materials for continued use, and saves us energy. Recycling your old iPhone is a win-win situation across the board.

How Are iPhones Recycled?

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Is stands to reason that you’d be curious to know what happens to your iPhone after it’s been sent in to be recycled. While it’s unclear (mostly due to propriety) what reclaimed materials are specifically used for, Apple has at the very least given some insight into their phone recycling process.

While it may sound like science fiction, Apple has invented a robot they’ve named Liam whose sole purpose is in the dismantling and extraction of iPhone components for recycling. Apple claims that Liam is capable of dismantling 1.2 million iPhones in a year, extracting components for refurbishment, removing toxic materials for safe disposal, and carefully removing precious metals for reuse.

Liam has been such an asset to Apple that he’s recycled himself, repurposing many of his robotic components to create a bigger and better recycling robot, which Apple unveiled in 2018, naming Liam’s successor Daisy.

Typically, precious metals recovered from cellphones are used in the making of new things like the production of green jewelry, new electronic components like logic boards and motherboards, as well as in automobile manufacturing.

Lithium-ion batteries are dismantled and lithium is most commonly reused in newly manufactured batteries.

The plastics that make up much of your iPhone are recycled just like any other plastic—they can be repurposed for a myriad of uses, from plastic bottles, packaging, and anything else you can mold out of recycled plastic! 

How to Get Paid to Recycle Your iPhone

Recycling your old iPhone isn’t just great for the environment—it can be good for your wallet as well. Depending on the age of your iPhone and its cosmetic condition, you can get cash for recycling your iPhone via an iPhone trade-in or buyback program.

Apple Trade-In Program

Apple’s trade-in program is fairly straightforward and can be done through the mail via an online form or in-person at your nearest Apple Store. They currently offer cash for any functioning iPhone from the iPhone 6s and up:

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While they won’t offer you any cash, Apple will recycle any Apple device, no matter its age or condition. From their website:

Apple Trade-In lets you recycle any Apple device (including devices from Apple-owned brands) at any Apple Store and on apple.com for free. That includes your batteries and old electronic products as well as free, on-demand packaging recycling for our commercial, education, and institutional customers. When we receive your device it will be thoroughly inspected to determine if components can be recycled or reused. Whether recycled or reused, all activities relating to the processing of your device will be managed in an environmentally responsible way.

Even if you’re not guaranteed cash, consider taking Apple up on their offer to recycle your device!

Buyback Boss Buyback Program

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While Buyback Boss isn’t the only iPhone buyback program out there, we’re certainly one of the best and most credible. We’ll even offer you a little bit of cash for your iPhone 5, which Apple currently has no monetary incentive for.

What’s more, we’re fully committed to the refurbishment or recycling of your iPhone—whichever makes sense. There couldn’t be an easier way to earn a little bit of cash for that old iPhone that’s collecting dust under your bed while doing a solid for the environment. Buyback Boss is as easy as three steps:

  1. Get an online quote
  2. Ship your phone (for free!)
  3. Get Paid!

Other Recycling Options

Sometimes you have an iPhone so old that a buyback program won’t accept it. And maybe you don’t have an Apple Store near you and don’t feel like shooting your old device through the mail. Recycling is good for the soul but that doesn’t make it easy. Luckily, there are some local options for getting rid of your iPhone (and other electronics) ethically and responsibly.

Your Town’s Recycling Plant

You have a couple of options when it comes to recycling your used electronics locally. First and foremost, your municipal recycling contractor should have town-sponsored electronics collection days, where you can put your iPhone and other electronics on the curb with your plastic and cardboard. They’ll pick your devices up and take them to where they need to go.

If you’re unsure of who does the recycling in your city, or if multiple contractors handle the service and you don’t know which one services your block, then check out call2recycle.org—they partner with local organizations and make it easy for you to find a drop-off location for your electronics.

Donate Your iPhone

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Today, many programs exist that facilitate the donation of electronics to those who need a helping hand and would love your old iPhone. Goodwill has partnered with Dell to create Dell Reconnect for this very purpose. Their programs extend to any Goodwill location, so donating your iPhone is as easy as driving to your nearest Goodwill location.

eBay also offers up “eBay for Charity” a service that lets you sell a device via their platform to donate some or all of your profits to a charity of your choosing.

Beyond these two programs, platforms like Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor are full of people in need. Listing your old iPhone on one of these platforms for free could be the exact helping hand that someone is looking for. After all, just like the adage states, “another man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Recycling is Good for the Environment, Good for Your Soul, & Can Make You Money

Recycling your old iPhone doesn’t just make you feel good—it helps the environment and may even help a person in need. Furthermore, it could even make you some money if you use the services of a buyback program like Buyback Boss.

But at the end of the day, as a consumer, you have the responsibility to ensure that, when you’re done with a product, you dispose of it in a way that best suits the rest of the world. Personal responsibility is a small gesture that adds up, exponentially, assuming we all take part. Throwing your old iPhone into the trash, while convenient, is not the way to act as a responsible consumer. Instead, recycle your iPhone using whatever means that make the most sense for you!