Resell Your Cell

So you craved a new iPhone and eventually succumbed to temptation. What should you do with last year’s must-have cellphone, now gathering dust in your desk drawer?

1) Never, Ever, Throw Your Cellphone Into The Trash

Cellphones contain a whole lot of good stuff (from a recycling point of view) and nasty stuff (as far as mother earth is concerned). Instead of throwing the phone into the garbage, find another way to dispose of it. Here are some of the ingredients that went into your cellphone: lead, beryllium, tantalum, arsenic, copper and… brominated flame retardants (gulp). I will leave it to your imagination to work out which can be recycled and which are best not dumped in a landfill!

2) Sell To A Specialist Business

A lot of businesses have emerged that are willing to buy old cellphones. These business aim to refurbish and resell the phone, often to customers in the developing world. Most will give you a quote on-line, and you get paid when they receive the phone through the mail. Chances are you will get the best price for your old phone by shopping around these businesses. Some of the better-known firms in the USA are:

There are many many more sites, most with names that are variations on the buy/sell-my/your-cell/ theme. If you want the most cash, then get on the web and be prepared to click around for the best deal. But be realistic – a phone that was cheap when you got it five years ago is not going to become more valuable over time. This is why most people end up saving themselves the trouble of selling a phone for a couple of bucks and instead opt to…

3) Give To Charity

Many worthy causes have linked up with commercial operations, turning the donation of an old cellphone into an act of charity. Here are a few varied examples focusing on the USA. There are many other charities and not-for-profit organizations that have similar schemes.

  • CollectiveGood will recycle phones and provide donations to the charity of your choice. Many charities with phone recycling schemes have CollectiveGood as their logistical partner. Phones can be posted directly or dropped off at Staples and Fedex/Kinkos stores.
  • Recellular have a similar program to CollectiveGood where donated phones result in charitable donations.
  • Ecophones partners organizations like schools so they can use phone recycling as a way to raise funds. Ecophones pays for every phone, even if it is broken, and offer free collection as an alternative to free postage.
  • The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund uses the money raised from recycled phones to protect Gorillas. Recycling is doubly beneficial as the mining of ores used in phone manufacture has destroyed the natural habitat of some gorillas.
  • Call To Protect provide refurbished phones to victims of domestic violence for use as an emergency lifeline. Other phones are sold and the proceeds used for educational programs to counter violence in the home.

4) eBay

Did you read what I said above about being realistic? If you are one of those people who must always have the latest super-duper gadgets, then you can make good money reselling all your not-quite-latest super-duper gadgets on eBay. The rest of you might as well just sell it direct to a business unless you happen to have business connections in Brazil or Bulgaria, because the chances of finding an interested customer will not be great.
To successfully sell on eBay, the key thing is offer a handset that is still new enough, and still fancy enough, that somebody will regard it as a premium toy to play with it. So the device must be high-end and probably no more than 18 months old. If you offer a device with functionality that has already entered the middle or low-end product ranges of major manufacturers, your chances of making more money via eBay are reduced. Also consider if your phone had a good reputation and is well-liked. If user reviews were terrible when the handset first came out, chances are there will be nobody searching to buy one second-hand a year later. But particular manufacturers and devices will attract strange cult followings that will boost the resell value. For example, anything made by Apple can be assumed to beat the averages. But if your phone is dated, scratched, and does what everybody else’s does, forget about it. Saying all that, you may want to ignore what I say because there are plenty of chumps out there…

By the way, never ever buy a device in the expectation you can make good money from selling it after you have used it. First, just opening the box knocks 40% off the value. If you are like me, you will have dropped, scratched, bashed and chipped the device plenty enough to account for the remaining 60%. Second, you cannot tell what will be fashionable, and what will be unfashionable, by the time you sell the device. Whilst some selling points continue to appeal years later, others make a big bang and disappear soon after. I bought one of the first WAP-enabled phones – enough said? Finally, if the phone does retain significant value, it must be because it retains novelty or rarity value. So the phone must be made in relatively small numbers compared to demand, and rival manufacturers must never produce good alternatives. If that is true, it is very likely that you paid a premium to buy the phone in the first place. Selling the phone later on just means recouping some of the premium you paid at the outset. So buying to resell is not good economic sense. You are better off buying a phone you like and assuming that once the money is spent you will never get it back. Anything you do get back is a bonus, either for you or your charity.

5) Give To A Friend

Your phone is unlocked, it is pretty new, and you want to do something good for the environment. Why not give it to a friend or family member? Remember that the manufacture of new phones leads to the mining of precious minerals. It also takes energy to make the handset, and then to transport it. If you sell the handset, more energy is spent on transporting it. All of that could be saved, lowering your carbon footprint. There may be someone you know who is considering getting a new phone. Instead of encouraging them to buy yet another new phone, which will probably end up gathering dust in a drawer in a few years’ time, think of the environment and encourage them to use one of the spare handsets you own. Recycling can begin at home! Giving a second-hand gift may not seem very generous, but if it saves the earth your friends and family may appreciate the thought.

6) And Finally

Do delete the contents of your phone’s memory before you sell it or give it away. Most recycling outfits will blank the memory of phones as part of the refurbishment process, but there is no reason to take chances. Your contact numbers are unlikely to be as desirable to the paparazzi as Paris Hilton’s, but somebody out there may want them. Numbers used to be saved to SIMs, but these days the device itself tends to store numbers and a whole lot more, so be thorough about blanking the device’s memory before your recycle. Details like phone numbers, addresses, emails, and possibly far more, depending on how sophisticated your device is, can be a boon to criminals involved in identity theft. Got a few pictures of you stored on the memory? Best to delete those too before somebody decides to pretend to be you on the internet. People store all sorts of data on their phones. Criminals realize that details like the names of your children or the date of birth of your spouse may also serve as your passwords. And your friends will not appreciate it if their numbers get in to the wrong hands, leading to prank or abusive calls. If nothing else, people often forget to back up information and then regret it later, so be methodical about ensuring you copy all the data you need and delete it from the phone as you do. There are plenty of dubious people out there, so take no chances!

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.