Old phone trade-ins become scrap metal or get shipped overseas
Standing in a mall food court, Marcellus Lang slipped a used cellphone into an ecoATM kiosk. Instantly, the machine scanned his phone, assessing its condition. Separately, it also snapped his photo, scanned his driver's license and recorded his electronic fingerprint.
For Lang's old EVO phone, he was offered $4. Repeating the process with an iPod Touch, he landed a $55 offer. Without pausing, the 25-year-old punched in his acceptance.
Within minutes, the machine spit out a total of $59 in cash, which Lang folded into his jeans pocket.
"It's cool. You dump your old phone for quick cash," said Lang, a security guard for an Old Sacramento sports bar, who said he has used the sell-your-electronics kiosk at Downtown Plaza Mall several times and likes the walk-up convenience.
For consumers, using an ecoATM is just one of a growing number of options for getting rid of old digital devices, particularly cellphones.
With the average consumer getting a new smartphone every 18 months, Americans are sitting on an ever-growing heap of digital discards. And many of those abandoned phones -- by some estimates, 800 million in the United States alone -- still hold some value, either as recycled donations or cold, hard cash.
Here's a look at some of the options for trading, selling or recycling:
Plenty of major retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart, will take your old cellphones -- and in some cases, computers, tablets, video game players and other devices -- and give you gift cards toward a store purchase.
Apple announced its own swapping program last month, letting consumers trade in their older iPhones for a discounted price on the new iPhone 5 models.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft also jumped into the trade-in game, trying to woo customers away from Apple. Under two deals running through late October or early November, Microsoft will pay owners of "gently used" newer iPhones or iPads up to $200 -- to be used toward a new Windows phone or tablet.
Companies such as Gazelle.com and USell.com enable consumers to sell their old electronics from their computer. In most cases, you look up your device, answer questions about its wear-and-tear condition, get a price, then receive a prepaid mail-in envelope for shipping the phone. You're paid once they receive the device.
Business booms every time Apple debuts a new phone, said Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer at Boston-based Gazelle.com. "This year alone, we've seen four times the number of trade-ins, compared with (Apple's) launch day last year."
Companies such as Gazelle either recycle the phones for scrap metal or sell them to wholesale refurbishers, who fix them up for overseas markets such as Africa, India and Southeast Asia, where demand is high for cheaper, used phones.
Walk-up sites such as ecoATM are another option, offering on-the-spot cash for used cellphones, tablets and MP3 players. Since 2009, the San Diego-based company has installed more than 650 kiosks in major retail locations, including Arden Fair, Roseville Galleria and Sunrise malls in the Sacramento region. In April, it announced it had recycled its first 1 million devices.
A number of organizations accept used cellphones as donations for various charitable causes. Among the better-known: CellPhonesforSoldiers.com is a nonprofit that recycles donated phones and uses the proceeds to supply U.S. soldiers overseas with free international phone-calling cards and other services.
Another is Phones4Charity.org, which acts as a fundraising tool for charitable groups such as the Red Cross or the National Wildlife Foundation. Individuals can get a tax receipt for donating phones, or a charity group can collect phones and be reimbursed in cash.
If you simply want to discard your used electronics in an environmentally friendly way, there are a number of drop-off recycling centers in most communities.