Go green. Earn green: Phone recycling

Jonathan Morris
June 5, 2009

I’d happily bet a fiver that everyone reading this has at least one old mobile phone lurking around a desk or bedroom, which hasn’t seen the light of day since you upgraded to the latest, fancy, feature-packed phone.

Instead of letting it rot away in the dark depths of your bottom drawer, next to those dusty photographs of your 2003 summer holiday to Ibiza, why not rescue it and send it to a mobile phone recycling company, and score yourself a few extra quid in the process!

And beyond a treat for yourself, you could also be doing a favour for the environment. Some companies also offer the opportunity to donate to charity, so you have a chance to feel good all round!

Pay as you throw

Statistics from trade-in website Fonebank ( show that the mobile phone recycling trend is on the rise, as people are realising that there’s money to be made from recycling old handsets. In the first quarter of this year, Fonebank claimed to have paid out more than £1.5 million in cheques to people sending in their old handsets. Its top ten most recycled handsets in that time were the Nokia 6230i, Nokia 6300, Sony Ericsson K800i, Nokia N95, Nokia N73, Nokia 6230, Sony Ericsson K750i, Motorola V3 RAZR, Samsung U600 and the Nokia N70.

The average paid out from Fonebank to consumers is £52.77, and the highest valued handset is the Nokia N96 with a price of £210 (correct at the time of going to press).

Fonebank director Mark Harrison says, “When times are tough, people search for every way possible to bring in a bit of extra money. This is something we have definitely seen over the last few months, with a sharp rise in the number of people recycling their unwanted mobiles. With some handsets now worth over £200, it’s definitely worth spending a couple of minutes rummaging round to find that old phone stashed in a drawer.”

Fonebank is one of a number of companies that recycles old mobile phones. You can find a host of them online, where you can enter the make and model of the phone you wish to recycle, and the website will give you an estimate of how much the company will pay you back, normally via cheque. There is usually a Freepost address for you to send your old phone to and, once it’s checked out, your payment will be put in the post.

Payments are typically for working handsets, but even non-working ones can also be sent in for the parts to be recycled – and you’ll still earn some money.

To get an idea of prices across the market, we compared what different companies would offer for an original Nokia N95. At the time of going to press, Fonebank had the best cash deal, at £106. Envirofone and Mazuma were each paying £100, while Mopay had it priced at £101. If you trade in your old Nokia N95 with Virgin Mobile, you’ll get around £100 of credit on your new handset. You can also do a trade in with 3, which will get you £89 on a Nokia N95 to use against your new contract.

We can voucher for it

There is not just cash up for grabs, but vouchers too. For instance, Mazuma offers a further 10 per cent of the phone’s value if you choose to receive your payment as an Argos voucher instead of cash, pushing the payment for that Nokia N95 up to £110.

Mopay also operates a similar scheme. For example, a Nokia 6300 is worth £40 as a cheque payment, but you could choose instead to get a £47 voucher from the Arcadia group of stores, which include Topshop, Marks and Spencer, and Burton. Mopay is also looking to expand its services, such as offering a recycling scheme for other electrical products, and it is soon to launch an online ‘shop’ exclusive to Mopay customers that will sell items ranging from Dell laptops to beauty products.

If you’re looking for an easy way to do your good deed for the week, month or even year, some companies offer you the choice of donating all, or part of your handset payment, to charity. Bring your old phone into a Vodafone, O2 or Carphone Warehouse store and they’ll make a donation to charity on your behalf, ranging from £5 to £10. T-Mobile’s recycling scheme allows customers to choose from receiving a payment for their handset or donating their payment to charity.

Expanding high street chain Fonehouse runs a programme where handsets brought into its Camberwell store for recycling attract a donation to Groundwork, a charity that revitalises London parks.
Mopay works with around 200 charities, the major ones being Breast Cancer Care, WWF, Crisis, Flora and Fauna, and Sparks. Customers have the option to donate up to 100 per cent of their phone payment, or make a part payment. The company claims to have paid out over £2 million to customers since its launch in 2005 and over half of that has gone to charity.

Green issues

By recycling your handset, you’ll also help to save the environment. Mobile phones make up a significant amount of the rubbish that ends up wasting away in landfills. According to S3 interactive, a Glasgow-based company that repairs and resells old handsets, in about three years’ time there will be around six billion redundant phones in existence.

And it’s not just about the landfill space this mass of old phones would take up – they can release toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic, antimony, beryllium and copper. That’s around half the periodic table! S3 Interactive managing director Philip Johnston says metals like these are bad news for the environment as they don’t degrade, seeping into water tables and ultimately food sources, potentially causing developmental health problems and even a number of cancers.

Cadmium, for instance, is the seventh most dangerous substance known to man, according to Johnston. If phones are recycled instead of thrown away, the output of these metals can be monitored and the effect minimised. Whether you take all of that as gospel or with a pinch of salt, it doesn’t change the fact that recycling is in your interest financially.

Heavy metal

Phones don’t contain all bad things – gold is used on the circuitry tracking on mobile phones and within silicon chips to prevent rusting; silver is used on the soldering and handsets also contain other precious metals such as platinum and palladium. “Up to 600 kilograms of gold and silver in old mobile phones are being thrown away in Britain every year,” says Johnston. “One kilogram of gold and silver can be extracted from every 50,000 handsets that are recycled. That’s more than £6 million each year.” These precious metals can be melted down and recycled over and over again, which reduces the need to expend more energy and resources mining the raw materials.

Handsets that aren’t pulled apart for their gold and silver are sent to developing countries within Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, where the latest phones are for many simply out of reach in terms of price. Phones in the UK have an average use of 18 months, meaning they’re usually still in alright shape when the user upgrades, and with a little refurbishment, can be made to look and work like new. They are now far more affordable for citizens of these emerging markets.

Fonebank’s Harrison says, “The mobile phones that Fonebank recycles are re-used in developing countries, where fixed landlines can be expensive or simply not available, and secondhand mobile phones offer an affordable and sustainable means of communication, helping businesses run more efficiently and families to stay in touch more easily. In Africa, where many of Fonebank’s reconditioned handsets are sent, the Nokia 6230i is currently one of the most popular phones.”

Mopay marketing director Chris Rogerson adds, “Mobile technology is helping to improve infrastructure and services as well as fight disease through improved communications.”

Keep it clean

But before you go rushing off to save the environment/help African countries/donate to charity/earn some extra cash through recycling your old mobile, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. Firstly, there is a strict stance against the reselling of stolen mobile phones, with all reputable recycling companies checking the IMEI number (the handset serial number) through the CheckMend database to ensure that it hasn’t been reported stolen. If it has, the phone will be blocked and will no longer function. There is also a means for it to be tracked back to its rightful owner via police databases.

It’s also recommended that you wipe all the data off the phone before handing it in for recycling. Our phones hold all sorts of precious information, from bank account numbers, private numbers and email addresses that can be used by fraudsters. Some handsets include the ability to wipe all data at the press of a few buttons. For those that don’t, Mazuma offers a free Mobile Data Delete Tool that is available for download from its website. After all the good deeds you’ve done by recycling your old mobile, you wouldn’t want any incriminating photos or videos let loose!




Average handset payments (as at May 2009, from Mazuma Mobile)

An average payment on Mazuma is around £29, although values range from £1 to £210.

  • Nokia 3310 – £1
  • Motorola ROKR E8 – £19
  • LG Cookie – £45
  • Sasung Soul – £67
  • Nokia N96 – £210



Buying secondhand phones

If you aren’t caught up on having the latest gadget on the market, it’s also good for your pocket and the environment to purchase a secondhand phone. This is a decent alternative to buying off the likes of eBay: Orange offers a selection of refurbished prepay handsets, ranging from the Sagem my401x at £19.50 to the Nokia N95 8GB for £280. Every model will come with a warranty of between three and twelve months.

Website Purple Gossip has pitched itself at the “eco-conscious rather than fashion conscious”, offering a range of recycled phones and accessories.  Prices range from £10 to £110, with the website claiming savings of up to 60 per cent on a new price. Purple Gossip handsets are classed by their condition; A, B or C, with A-class handsets showing minor damage, and B and C-class ones displaying more wear and tear.

The website will also tell you if the handset is locked to a network, or which one it will work on. There is a 14-day window for returns if you detect a fault that Purple Gossip hasn’t picked up during its thorough testing procedure.

Purple Gossip sales representatives Leanne Welsh says, “By choosing a mobile phone from Purple Gossip, you will prolong the life cycle of the handset and actively help to reduce the amount of hazardous waste in Britain’s landfills, thus doing your bit for the environment.”



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