Got a new Android phone? Here's how to properly get rid of your old one

Protect and clear your data—and then sell, donate, or recycle your old phone.

howto dispose phone lead

’Tis the season for giving, right? Sure, but it’s awfully nice to be on the receiving end of a new Android phone. And if you weren’t lucky enough to snag one recently, maybe you went ahead and gifted yourself a new phone. That way you give and receive.

If you’re the proud owner of a new Android smartphone, chances are you have an old one that suddenly needs another home. Maybe it’s still fully functional and worth passing on to another happy user, or perhaps it’s seen better days and simply needs a proper resting place. And no, we’re not talking about the corner of your closet, or in a dusty desk drawer (see above), unless you’re saving it as a backup. 

Don’t have a plan for that old device? We can help with that. Whether it makes sense to sell the phone, donate it to charity, or find somewhere that can dispose of its toxic battery and parts, we’ll help you guide your once-loved phone to its next—or final—phase in life. But first, you need to make sure all your personal data is eradicated.

Wipe it clean

howto dispose phone encryption

Encrypt your data on the off-chance that someone tries to mine your data after the factory reset.

If you used that old phone for the last couple years, then it’s surely loaded with all sorts of personal information: accounts, contacts, photos, passwords, and other little bits of data you may not even realize. Unless you’re passing your phone off to a friend or family member, you probably won’t know who’s going to have his or her hands on it next. Either way, you don’t risk them having that data.

First, you need to encrypt your data. That makes all the content on your phone unreadable to anyone who doesn't have your passcode, keeping it under lock and key should anyone else try to crack it later on. Just head to Settings, hit the Security menu, and you’ll find the encryption option there. The process can take an hour or more, and your phone must be fully charged and plugged in. In other words, don’t try to do this 10 minutes before meeting a Craigslist buyer.

There are a couple other things to do next, particularly if you’re running Android Marshmallow on your old phone. In that same menu, turn off any screen lock you might have. And then go to Accounts under Settings and remove every listed account, Google or otherwise. That will ensure that the next person who sets up your phone doesn’t run into any issues with the new Factory Reset Protection function.

Finally, it’s time for the factory reset. While any OS updates you’ve applied remain intact, the phone will otherwise act like it’s just been pulled out of the box for the first time. It’ll be a blank slate again, ready for its next user’s accounts and data. To finish the job, go to Backup & Reset under the Personal tab in Settings and select Factory data reset. Once the process is complete, the phone’s software will be like-new.

What’s it worth?

howto dispose phone sell

Sites like Gazelle and Amazon make it easy to sell your phone, but you might make more money with added effort elsewhere.

If your phone still works well and is relatively recent or desirable, you might consider trying to sell it: secondhand devices can fetch a decent amount of money, especially since off-contract flagship phones sell for a few hundred dollars or more new.

When considering this route, the main question is this: What’s more important, the money or convenience? If you want to make the most cash, you’ll probably do so by listing your phone on a site like Craigslist or eBay and trying to find a direct buyer. This could take some time, effort, and communication, and there’s always the potential for fraud—but that extra hassle could bring extra money by cutting out a middleman.

Otherwise, consider selling to a service like Gazelle or Amazon. In either case, you’ll agree to an offered price based on their listings, and then send it in for inspection: Gazelle will mail you a carton for the phone, complete with a mailing label, while Amazon will just email the label. Once they receive the phone and affirm its condition, you’ll get your money… or credit.

How much money you get back for your phone can depend significantly on which service you choose and the condition of the device—so shop around. For example, an LG G3 from Verizon in good condition could net you $70 cash (as of this writing) from Gazelle, while Amazon will pay you $95 in credit. And a Galaxy Note 4 from AT&T could be worth $150 cash from Gazelle, while the Amazon credit is bumped up to $184. 

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to trade in your old phone for a newer one—meaning you didn’t get a new phone just yet—you surely have local options. Many carrier stores take trade-ins towards new phones, and often have promotional offers, and so do retail chains like Best Buy and GameStop. Again, compare offers if you can, rather than jumping at the first one you find.

You could also try selling to EcoATM, which has automated machines at malls that offer cash on the spot for your phone. They also may offer money for broken phones, which isn’t always the case elsewhere, so you might be able to pick up a few bucks for your busted handset. 

Pass it on—or passing on

howto dispose phone donate

Donate your phone, regardless of age or condition, and help someone in need.

If you’re feeling particularly benevolent—or don’t think you can score much money for your old phone—then you can always donate the phone to a charity. Here are a few good options to consider, although you might also see if you can donate a device to a local organization. 

Verizon’s own HopeLine collects phones and accessories from all carriers, and then refurbishes them and redistributes them to survivors of domestic abuse. HopeLine also provides grants to such organizations, with more than $29 million donated to date. Hope Phones (unrelated), on the other hand, takes the money earned from selling your gadgets and puts it towards phones for healthcare workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Cell Phones for Soldiers uses money earned from selling donated phones to buy phone talk time for active U.S. military members, and to provide emergency funds for veterans who struggle once they get home. If any of those causes speaks to you, check the site and see if your unneeded device can help them out.

All three of those charities take broken phones, and HopeLine lets you drop your phone off at any Verizon retailer, so that seems to be the best option to dispose of a phone that otherwise lacks real value. Otherwise, if you’d rather just ensure it doesn’t end up in the dump, you can search for electronic recycling drop-off locations via Greener Gadgets. Some big box stores, including Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot, take used electronics for recycling, as do many wireless retailers.

Whatever you do, just don’t toss your phone in the garbage. The chemicals in the battery aren’t meant to fester in the dump, and need to be disposed of in a safe manner by professionals. Also, that phone surely served you well for at least a couple years before succumbing to injury or obsolescence: ensure it has a happy—or at least respectful—fate.

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