What you can do with your old cell phones

What you can do with your old cell phones

Between planned obsolescence, exorbitant repair costs, and annual product launches, it’s nearly impossible to avoid upgrading your phone every couple of years – banishing your old cell phones to the junk drawer. When a device becomes unused and unwanted by its owner, it’s designated as electronic waste (e-waste). Business Insider reported in 2021 that only 17% of e-waste is properly recycled, but there are plenty of alternatives to sending a device to a landfill. With these tips, you can be a more sustainable consumer and also make the most of your old cell phones.

Donate your old cell phones

There are many organizations devoted to social and environmental change that offer cell phone donation programs to help fund their cause. Donating your phone gives it a renewed purpose – that’s a much better use than adding to the clutter in your junk drawer!

You can deduct this non-cash donation on your tax filings the following year, too, so keep track of your charitable contributions if you choose to donate old devices.

National Organizations

  • Cell Phones for Soldiers – Sells or recycles your phone, and then uses the proceeds to give free domestic/international calling and emergency financial assistance to active-duty military members and veterans.
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – Partnered with Cellular Recycler to recieve a portion of funds from refurbished electronics sales. This funding goes directly to furthering NCADV’s programming and projects that support domestic violence survivors, their families, and the advocates and allies that work with them.
  • Goodwill – You may recognize Goodwill as your neighborhood thrift store, but you may not know that Goodwill also uses the proceeds from used goods to help millions of people each year earn degrees, find employment, and build skills. Your donated phone will help fund aid that improves the lives of millions of people.

Hand down your phone

Giving an old phone to a friend or family member is an ideal way to extend the life of your device. It’s easy to prepare a phone for someone new by restoring the device to factory settings.

If you’re giving your phone to your kid, you can set up parental controls, screen time limits, and location sharing to make sure they stay safe. You can also load it up with a low-cost plan from US Mobile with a few gigabytes of data or just Talk and Text for $6 per month. You’ll get the peace of mind of being able to reach your kid at any time, and they’ll know how to contact you in case of an emergency.

Recycle or sell old cell phones for cash

There are a number of companies with online and in-person options that can recycle old cell phones for free, or buy them off you. Going this route, you’ll give your phone a new life, and you might even make a few dollars while you’re at it! How much you’ll get for your phone depends on the brand and version of your phone, carrier, condition, and where you trade it in, so make sure you shop around to get the best return.

There are plenty of options for you to resell your phone quickly and easily. We’re all about security at US Mobile, so we’ve linked some mobile apps with great protection features for buyers and sellers.

Recycle onlineRecycle in-personSell it yourself
SwappaGameStopFacebook Marketplace
BackMarketApple StoreOfferUp

Make the most of your old cell phones’ cameras

Use old phones as a home security system or baby monitor

Many smartphones have better cameras than dedicated home surveillance devices. If you have old cell phones lying around, there’s no reason to shell out hundreds of dollars on security cameras or baby monitors (which typically sell software subscriptions to enable full functionality).

Alfred is a cross-platform app, meaning you can download it on both Android and Apple devices. The security monitoring app touts over 40 million users worldwide, with features like 24/7 live streaming, motion detection, 30-second motion event recordings, and a night vision filter (perfect for baby monitor use!) built-in for free. You can upgrade to a paid subscription or one-time purchase to remove ads, enable HD streaming, configure motion detection zones, and extend motion event recordings.

iPhone mounted to a small tripod on a bookshelf

With your software installed, the next step is mounting the phone in your home. Of course, framing your camera at a fantastic angle is the priority, but be mindful of nearby outlets, high-traffic footpaths, and swinging doors – you’ll need to keep your phone plugged in around the clock to keep it on. 

There are all sorts of ways to rig your old cell phones. Docks are the most aesthetically pleasing stationary option, but I prefer a mini tripod for the additional flexibility. Sticking a suction cup phone mount on your window is a crafty way to capture what’s going on outside.


A dashboard camera is a surefire method to protect you in an insurance dispute. If you commute in traffic, drive in the dark, or work as an Uber, Doordash, or another type of gig driver, a dashcam will capture any incidents, defend your innocence and expedite insurance claims. An added bonus is that you’ll get to enjoy your driving footage afterward – great for sharing scenic rides and road trips on social media!

With the Smart Dash Cam app, you can use your old phone to record your drives. Some convenient features this app offers allow you to select your quality and framerate settings to adjust how much data your recorded videos will take up, adjust the duration of the looping video, display your current speed, set up custom speed limits, and more. It’s free to download on iOS and Android.

The ideal spot to put your repurposed cell phone is on the dashboard of your car. Sticking it on the windshield or near the rear-view mirror will leave the charging cable dangling, and the phone can disrupt your visibility of the road. I love an adjustable mount because if my partner or friend is driving, they can move the arm to the right angle for their line of vision. Many newer phones have ultra-wide angle lenses, but if you’re rocking an oldie as your repurposed dash cam, you can give a lens kit a try. A wide-angle lens attachment will help you capture more of the road, sidewalks, and sky.

Use your phone as a TV remote

We’ve all been through it – digging, crouching, breaking out the flashlight, calling your family on the phone – all in search of that pesky TV remote. If your TV remote broke or if you’ve deduced that it’s lost forever, you’re not out of luck! We’ve rounded up solutions that’ll let your old cell phones control your streaming boxes and TVs.

IR Blaster for TVs

Most TV remotes use infrared to send signal to the TV. The components that send the IR signal is called an IR blaster. Some phones have an IR blaster that you can use to control your TV directly from your phone. For phones without one, you can use an adapter. If your Android has a built-in IR blaster, this app can communicate with almost any TV.

Apps to control streaming boxes

The remotes that come with streaming boxes are notoriously small and lightweight. This gives them the optimal feel in your hand, and the optimal form factor to slide right in between your couch cushions. The most popular streaming boxes have companion apps to control them on your phone. (Bonus: the next time you’re fighting over which show to binge on Netflix, you can take matters into your own hands with your secret remote.)

Apps to control streaming boxes

Apple TV

  • iPhone – Your iPhone comes with a built-in remote with the same functionality as the physical remote. Access it from the control center.
  • Android – The walled garden of the Apple ecosystem is not very welcoming to Android users looking for Apple TV remote solutions. With no existing options that have a track record of positive reviews, we can’t offer a solid recommendation quite yet.

Use your phone as a wireless mouse

Another way you can repurpose your old phone is to make it a wireless mouse. Using a simple app setup on your phone and computer, you can move your cursor around the screen, type in URLs and messages, and activate key commands from your phone. This is ideal for users who plug their laptop into the TV for browsing the web on the big screen, conference room meetings and giving live presentations.

I was the guy in college who only had a school computer and a small HDTV. When I wanted to kick back and watch Naruto at the end of a long day, this function came in clutch. Remote Mouse is an app that I love for controlling my computer from my phone. It’s available for Android, iPhone, Mac, PC, and Linux, so any configuration of devices will work. Download the app on your phone and your computer, sync over WiFi, and boom – you’re good to go!

Make your phone a dedicated media player

When you workout

Whether you’re throwing around weights at the gym, running the streets, or biking dirt trails, you’ve most likely felt your heart skip a beat when you nearly destroyed your thousand-dollar smartphone. A years-old device without cell service is just as good as a touchscreen iPod. Without the fear of dropping or smashing your daily driver, you’ll be able to work out with less stress.

In the car

Avoid the hassle of connecting your new phone and instead use an old phone as your media player, never taking it out of the car. Download your favorite playlists for offline playback, or stay connected and stream content using your active phone’s hotspot. Keep it plugged into your car’s power port, connect it to the stereo via either Bluetooth or the headphone jack, and you’ve got yourself a dedicated media player inside your car.

At home

If home security isn’t a concern, something else you can do with your old cell phones is make it a media player for your at-home audio setup. Mount your phone to the wall, speaker, or entertainment center and use it for selecting music and podcasts on your home speakers. With voice assistant enabled, you’ll get the experience of a smart speaker without buying one.

old cell phones and TVs in a massive pile being sorted by a young man
Image by Maruf Rahman from Pixabay

The materials necessary for manufacturing electronics are finite. Harvesting the rare metals needed to make phones can take a toll on the earth, so when e-waste is thrown away into a landfill, these resources are sacrificed prematurely. Although it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to responsibly produce the products they sell, and of the government to regulate industry practices, we as consumers can help contribute to a greener earth by extending the life of our devices.

Fast Facts

  • 2021 reports say only 17% of e-waste is properly recycled
  • Extracting gold from electronics instead of mining for it produces 80% less CO2
  • From 2014 to 2019, the volume of e-waste increased by 21%