Image of mobile phone

What to do with mobile phones and tablets?

06 Apr 21

Here’s a newsflash. The best thing to do with your old phone is not, in actual fact, to stick it in that drawer of random stuff we all have. 

That ‘just in case’ occasion will never come, trust us. And your phone is full of stuff like gold, lithium and rare earth metals that really wreck the planet when they are extracted, so it is really important to send those materials back to be used again.  

Mobile phones and tablets that aren’t in good enough condition to be passed on for reuse can be described as WEEE or waste electrical and electronic equipment.

Household recycling collection

Mobile phones and tablets aren’t accepted via household recycling collections and should be recycled at your local recycling centre or at a WEEE bring site.
Mobile phones and tablets should NOT be disposed of in general waste because

  • Electrical items contain batteries that, when thrown in a bin, dangerously end up in landfills. As they decompose, hazardous elements from the metals are released into the environment contributing to water and air pollution.
  • If electrical products are disposed of in landfill with batteries still inside, they can potentially cause battery fires.
  • There is no opportunity for refurbishment or repair so that an item can be reused.
  • There is no opportunity to recycle the items and recover valuable materials and resources.
 not currently recycled

Household waste recycling centre (HWRC)

Yes, local recycling centres collect mobile phones and tablets just look out for the WEEE signage.

Lithium-ion batteries, the sort you find in laptops, tablets and other gadgets should be removed from your unwanted device if possible and deposited alongside WEEE items.

Recycling facilities exist

Other recycling collections

There are dozens of mobile phone recycling companies out there and depending on what handset you have and its exact specifications, prices can vary widely.

If your unwanted device is in good working condition and reasonably up-to-date, shops such as Cash Converters and CeX buy electrical or electronic items, especially if you have the original box and instructions.

Check different providers and comparison sites as prices can vary. Try Mazuma Mobile, Envirophone, eBay and Music Magpie.

If your phone is in poor condition, then it will be broken down and sold off as component parts. And if it's not worth anything, these companies should dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

Whoever you purchase your mobile phone or tablet from will most likely offer a refurbishment or recycling service for your old device, this may be in the form of a pre-paid envelope.

Other initiatives include:

  • Argos offers an over the counter trade-in service at all stores nationwide, where you can get an instant quote and exchange for gift voucher.
  • Carphone Warehouse allows customers to drop off their old phones into over 700 stores across the country.
Recycling facilities exist

How are mobile phones and tablets recycled?

Up to 80 percent of a phone is recyclable, so don't send it to landfill or leave it in the drawer - recycle it!
Mobile recycling schemes recover and reuse various parts from phones and their accessories. Parts recovery may include

  • Separate metals recovery (including precious and semi-precious metals): the mobile parts are ground up and useful metal content extracted. Metal can be extracted from batteries too.
  • Plastic recovery: energy-from-incineration is used to recover plastic from components. Outer body plastic may be granulated and reformulated for use in mouldings.
  • Recovery and downgrading of valuable components: e.g. flash memory devices.        
  • Reuse of parts: Useful parts include aerials, battery connectors, PCBs (printed circuit boards), connectors including gold-coated edge contacts on PCBs, ICs (integrated circuits), keyboards, LCD screens, lenses, microphones, phone housings, screws, SIM card assemblies and speakers.
  • Many manufacturers have signed up to the Basel Convention agreeing to cooperate with developing environmentally sound management to end-of-life mobile phones.

Removing your personal data

Don't recycle, trade-in, sell, or donate your device without wiping it clean.

It’s up to you to make sure your personal data has been removed from your electronic devices. And we’re not just talking about mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Lots of electrical items store information about us, from smart TVs to sat navs. Take care of your personal data and reduce the risk of it being used by someone else.

What can you do?

  1. A simple repair - like replacing a cracked screen - could give a mobile phone or tablet a new lease of life.

  2. Get the phone unlocked then pass them on to friends and family or through websites such as Freecycle and Freegle.

  3. Donate them to charity - most charities accept them whether they are working or not. They can raise valuable funds by passing them on to mobile phone recycling companies.

  4. Choose a refurbished phone for your next ‘upgrade’ - it’ll help to conserve our finite resources.

Recycling is constantly evolving and changing so check back for updates or try our recycling locator to find out what you can recycle at home and where you can recycle or pass on unwanted items in your local area.