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How to recycle that old Apple iPhone or Android smartphone for cash

Resale market grows for outmoded iPhone and Android models, giving new life to old phones.

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The cash you can get for "old" gadgets varies by model, condition, and demand. This month, for instance, a mint iPhone 3GS brought a trade-in price of $212. Apple sells identical models for $99 and the more-powerful iPhone 4 for $199.

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How's that work? Phone companies subsidize the price of practically every phone on the market by hundreds of dollars. (That $99 iPhone costs $499 if purchased without a contract.) Carriers then recoup the cost through monthly fees. But when a gadget-recycling service buys the phone from an owner, the device is "unlocked" – free from a contract. Gazelle customers can sign a deal with a different carrier, or simply enjoy the gadget as a pocket computer and forgo phone service. This allows some shoppers to pay more initially but save money over the course of a year.

Where do the phones – overwhelmingly iPhones, according to Gazelle – end up? Most handsets in good condition are sold on e-commerce sites such as eBay. Gadgets in worse shape are marketed in bulk to larger resellers. Some find homes overseas. Others get new parts – think replacements for shattered screens. Those beyond repair – or simply too old – are sent to an electronics recycling firm that properly disposes of them.

"Broken iPhones are one of the few products that still hold value, because the parts are so valuable," Kennedy says.

Many smart phones are troves of personal information – e-mails, contacts, passwords, bank data. It's a mother lode that thieves dream of. Gazelle and other companies pledge to wipe clean phones before sending them out, but it's still a good idea to purge personal data from any device before parting with it.

Another tip: Even though companies ask for included accessories, the extra money they're willing to shell out for these is minimal – as little as $1 for a power adapter. Sellers can do themselves a favor by hanging onto things such as USB chargers, which work with many devices and can run as much as $30 in stores.


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