Go gadget go! Turn old mobiles and more into cash

mobile phone recycling

Plenty of sites claim that, in just a few clicks, they can turn an old mobile phone, digital camera or MP3 player gathering dust in a drawer into hundreds of pounds in cash.

But can they really deliver?

To find out, we took a closer look at how recycling sites like Envirofone, Mazuma and Mobile Phone Xchange work and, in the next section, how people getting top payouts are using them.

Cash for gadgets: how it works

Big recycling sites like Mazuma and Envirofone make money by selling on working but used gadgets in bulk and breaking up broken or unwanted devices into saleable parts.

Basically, they want old, unwanted gadgets and they're willing to pay to get them.

Though the money is obviously their biggest draw, they're also far better for the environment than chucking electronics in the bin.

For example, the cadmium batteries used in some older phones can leak in landfill sites and end up in the water system or cause air pollution if they end up being incinerated.

How much can you make?

Claims that these recycling sites can easily make 'hundreds' of pounds are somewhat far fetched.

Just as a quick example we did a search for phones in full working order on three sites:

HTC Desire iPhone 4S 32GB Samsung Galaxy S4 i9505
Mobile Phone Xchange £15 £110 £145
Envirofone £16.10 £121.02 £150.05
Mazuma £15 £120 £160

Note that if the phone isn't working or is damaged in some way, the amount on offer drops sharply, usually to about 30% of the working price.

Phones may also be worth more if they're unlocked, though sites will accept handsets that only work on one network.

As you can see from the few examples above, the more recent and desirable the phone the more it makes. Cheap or older handsets can go for as little as £2 or £3.

mazuma not available

Very old phones aren't accepted at all. We searched in vain for a site willing to take a Nokia 3310 off our hands, for example.

Seller beware...

Other than not having a handset accepted at all, there are three big problems with trading in old gadgets.

The big recycling sites go out of their way to make it simple for customers to send in their devices but it's not unusual for them to be slow posting the cheque back; don't rely on getting the money even within a week.

More worryingly, the amounts offered for fairly new, fully working phones tend to be small compared to selling direct, for example on Ebay.

In some cases, in fact, the 'recycling' site will sell a high quality phone like an iPhone 4 on its own on Ebay rather than in bulk so the site will definitely give less than the going rate.

We found the exact same iPhone as in the table above going for sale on Ebay for over £300 (unlocked).

See the next section for more on selling on Ebay and similar sites.

Finally, there are security issues with second hand gadgets.

Make sure that all the personal information on the device is deleted, especially if selling a smartphone or laptop. See this section for more help.

How to make money in three steps

Actually, as we've seen above, it's not making money that's the problem so much as getting the best price for the used gadget.

The swift, simple process offered by the big recycling sites is often good value but in some cases, especially when the item is high value, they're actually offering pretty poor returns.

1. Inspect your gadgets

Need to work out whether an item is high value? As the jingle (almost) says, inspect your gadgets.

Brand new / as new: the most money is available, unsurprisingly, for items that are as close to new as possible.

That means: absolutely no marks on the item; absolutely no data or custom settings loaded (although that should always be the case, see last section); item comes with accessories and in original packaging.

Sites have specific rules on this - for example, for a handset to be classed "brand new" at Mobile Phone Xchange it must have the protective plastic on the screen - so double check before sending.

Locked out?
All the major recycling sites take
phones that are 'locked'
to UK networks, though they don't
take locked out phones since they might have been stolen.

Used and working: the most common category by far also seems to have the most price variation between sites.

For a gadget to fall into this area it must turn on and off, perform all the basic functions and come with a working battery.

It's not usually necessary to send a charger or any other accessories.

When an item is in very good condition - 'as new' - it's worth checking for sites that will pay more for good condition rather than getting lumped in with the used masses.

Damaged or not working: cash is available even for phones with a smashed screen or a dodgy couple of buttons.

Some sites - like Mazuma - will quote a price for 'nonworking' items.

Others - like Asda Tech Trade-in - ask for items to be sent in and assessed before they give a quote by email that can either be accepted or rejected.

Completely totalled gadgets - for example, smashed or snapped into pieces - are extremely unlikely to be accepted.

2. Find the best price

As we've seen above, once all the gadgets are assembled and ready to send, it's worth doing a bit of shopping around to find the best price.

For items that are either in excellent condition, fairly newly released or both make sure quotes reflect that high value, rather than just generic 'used' price guides.

As well as big sites, check Ebay and consider taking the item in for a valuation at an exchange shop like CeX.

If the gadget falls into the used category, and especially if it's fairly old, recycling sites will offer a decent deal with little hassle.

Shop around and note that some sites boost prices by up to 15% for those that'll accept vouchers instead of cash.

Here's a quick guide to what's on offer:

Vouchers Get them from
Argos Mobile Phone Xchange
Mazuma
Envirofone
Debenhams Mobile Phone Xchange
Debenhams Mobile Phone Recycling
Homebase Mazuma

3. Check before sending

When the site is chosen, apply for a prepaid envelope for the gadget - or, alternatively, take some nice snaps for an Ebay listing - and give the device a final once over.

Research released in 2010 by Disklabs, a technology forensics firm, showed that about 50% of second hand mobile handsets contained the personal data of the original users.

A 2012 study conducted by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) found that one in ten second hand hard drives it checked still included previous owners' information.

Considering the sensitive information - from online banking details to personal emails - we keep on our devices these results are troubling but the solution is fairly simple.

Wipe it

Phones are fairly simple to wipe: restore to factory settings which will delete all personal data.

If there's an SD card, make sure it's either wiped during the restore process, which is usually a separate box to check, or take it out (see below).

Computer hard drives are even more likely to contain sensitive data and more difficult to wipe.

Deleting files by putting them in the recycle bin doesn't really get rid of them and even reformatting isn't enough, the hard drive needs to be wiped with a specialist overwriting program.

One well known program is Eraser for Windows, their site is here and find more information on this subject on the ICO website.

If in doubt, chuck it out

The very best way to keep data safe, however, is to not send it with the gadget at all.

In the vast majority of cases the sites don't need the phone SIM card or memory card, for example, so just take it out and either reuse it or destroy it.

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