Corporate recycling programs
There's no good reason to throw a cell phone in the trash. They're something you carry around every day anyway and they're comparatively easy to recycle. Easier than, say, a 50-pound television set or a desktop computer with a CRT monitor. The EPA has partnered with a number of manufacturers and retailers to encourage cell phone recycling, including AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, Staples, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. These companies will accept your old cellphone by mail (many will provide you with a prepaid envelope), or at any retail location.
Refurbishing and reusing cell phones
Since cell phones are often discarded when they're in workable condition, they can often be repurposed and reused by charities and other organizations. ReCellular is one such company, helping people recycle their phones easily by partnering with a number of manufacturers as well as the CTIA Wireless Foundation. It also works with charities, including "Cell Phones for Soldiers," which provides calling cards for soldiers abroad using proceeds from donated phones. In addition, ReCellular partners with prepaid wireless carriers like PagePlus to provide them with refurbished handsets that can be resold for a low price. Non-working cell phones are recycled.
Another option is to donate your old cell phone to a company that outfits senior citizens (or other individuals in need) with a quick, easy way to dial 911 in emergencies. It's a little-known fact that even a cell phone off the network can be used to access 911. A good starting point is the 911 Cell Phone Bank, which lists participating goodwill organizations. Also worth noting is Freecycle, which helps you donate old electronics, including cell phones to those in need, while Call2Recycle helps you locate drop-boxes by zip code.
Protecting your cell phone data
One final note: before discarding or donating your outmoded cell phone, it's wise to delete all the phone numbers you've stored, as well as photos, text messages and records of incoming and outgoing calls and to remove the SIM card, if the phone has one. (Don't forget about memory cards either.) ReCellular offers instructions on resetting many models of phones and frequently updates its database.
Looking for a new phone? We've got more than 250 reviews of cell phones at ConsumerSearch. Just remember to recycle your old one after you upgrade!