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Mobile phones — refurbish, repair, reuse, recycle

Our quick guide to buying refurbished and second hand phones and what to do with your old one.

Britain’s hoarders currently store approximately 70 million unused mobile phones within forgotten drawers and cupboards. With approximately 1,712 mobile phones being replaced every hour of every day in the UK alone (thanks to ‘smarter phones’), the phone recycling industry should be booming. According to the Green Alliance think tank, the UK recovered only 25 per cent of unwanted mobile phones in 2010. It did however predict this figure to rise to 80 per cent by 2020.

The value of old mobile handsets is becoming of greater importance as access to rare minerals becomes increasingly difficult, both physically and financially. Paul Haldane, owner of the recycling website phones4cash, highlighted a mobile’s hidden value by stating “the gold content of around 40 mobile phones is the same as in 1 ton of gold ore”.


In August 2016, Greenpeace conducted a survey on mobile phone recycling and repair which found that in Asian countries people were more than twice as likely to get their phones repaired compared to people in the US or Germany. This may be due to a less throwaway culture and a larger number of independent repair shops.

Of those people who did get their phones repaired, few went back to the manufacturer and even fewer – only 4% – had tried to repair the phone themselves. But that may be possible.

iFixit has free online repair tutorials for many models of phone, tablet and laptop.


Greenpeace has five suggestions for how to reuse an old mobile phone including turning your old phone with a camera into a baby monitor or even a security camera with a simple app, or using your old Android device to help study diseases, predict global warming or even discover pulsars. 


An increasing number of charities are also collecting old mobile handsets – both working and non-working. These are then sold for money, which goes towards the charities’ work.

Lucy Brinicombe, senior press officer for Oxfam, was asked what happened to old mobile phones once they were donated to Oxfam. She stated: “Oxfam recycles mobile phones through its recycling partner Corporate Mobile Recycling. Damaged and barred phones are accepted – lost or stolen phones are quarantined for 28 days then destroyed if unclaimed. Working phones are sold to wholesale buyers in emerging markets including Africa and China ,though particularly modern phones e.g. smartphones would be sold back into the UK, once all data has been deleted. Phones that are not in a good condition are recycled. They are sent to a company called Else in Sweden where they are broken down into their composite parts. Phones that are beyond economic repair or recycling are sold into China for parts.”

Phone shops will also take phones back. From this year, EU laws on recycling require member states to collect 45% of the weight of electronic equipment sold. Targets in the EU will rise to 85% of e-waste weight by 2019. Whether this will continue to apply in the UK, post Brexit, remains to be seen.


Numerous mobile recycling websites can be found online, offering money in exchange for unwanted mobile phones (exceptions to this exchange include phones registered as lost or stolen).

Price comparison websites such as and, highlight the need to shop around before accepting an offer, as the prices quoted for specific handsets can vary hugely.

Some comparison websites e.g. Freedom Mobiles don't earn commission from their recommendations.

If you sell on eBay you can donate all or some of the proceeds to the London-based Restart Project, which works with communities and companies to build demand for more sustainable electronics.

However, it is important to check that the mobile buyer is credible before selling. There have been numerous complaints of sellers not being paid the original quoted amount, or receiving nothing at all! Sell my mobile’s website recommended phones be sent via special delivery to buyers, rather than using their Freepost address.

    Short video on ethics and mobile phones

    Buying Refurbished

    Throughout the Best Buys advice in these guides we have recommended that you buy refurbished devices to cut down on the environmental and financial costs of products. The website gave the following advice about buying refurbished:

    “Refurbished devices won’t generally come with the original packaging and may not include all the accessories, but they will have been tested, and will usually come with a warranty for varying lengths of time.

    “Manufacturer refurbs are generally preferable since they guarantee a higher standard, although they’re harder to come by. However, neither Apple nor Samsung sell refurbished smartphones; you’ll have to get them from a retailer. (But Apple sells refurbished iPads and Macbooks, and Samsung sells refurbished tablets.)”

    You can also buy refurbished mobile phones directly from the mobile networks, but they don’t tend to be great value, according to With mobile phones, they may either come with a contract or SIM free.

    Used devices which haven’t been refurbished won’t have gone through the same checks so there’s less of a guarantee of quality. Plus, they’re mainly sold by private sellers, which means they’re unlikely to come with a warranty. With a used device it’s a case of caveat emptor, or ‘let the buyer beware’.

    You can get refurbs from lots of retailers including Argos, eBay, PC World and to name a few. A web search for e.g. ‘refurbished laptop’ will bring up loads of results from both manufacturers and retailers.

    Buying a second-hand phone

    If you want to buy a second-hand phone, the following tips can help:

    • Make sure the phone works! Don’t buy a phone if you can’t play with it first.
    • Check the phone is not blocked or registered as stolen by visiting
    • If the battery doesn’t hold its charge for long, make sure that the model has a replaceable battery.
    • Find out which networks the phone is compatible with.
    • Ask for a receipt.