Donate Your Old Cell Phone to Help People Who Need Them Most

Any charged cell phone that still works can be used to call 911 in the US.

(SeaRick1 /

If you are like most people, you have one or more, old no-longer-used cell phones sitting around in a drawer. The likelihood of them seeing the light of day again is probably very remote.

So, what can you do with an old obsolete, broken, or otherwise unwanted cell phone? First here is what you shouldn't do. Don't just throw them away. A huge amount of e-waste is generated every year. Many of the components of cell phones are hazardous and shouldn't be put in a landfill or incinerated, and many of the phones contain recyclable materials that could be repurposed.

If the phone is still usable or repairable, they can be traded in, resold or better yet donated to people who really need them. With the advent of the cell phone age, public payphones are clearly an endangered species. That leaves the people who are too poor or too isolated to own phones, the most vulnerable people, no way to call for emergency help.

Any charged cell phone that still works can be used to call 911 in the US. It's a law that all cell phones sold in the US must be capable of dialing 911 even if they no longer have a carrier. Those phones that you no longer need or want can be put in the hands of the people who could use them to call for emergency help. People like women who have restraining orders against abusive partners or who are living in domestic abuse shelters.

That's exactly what a Maryland nonprofit organization called Secure the Call does. This organization has a mission to provide the millions of Americans who need phones for emergencies get them coupled with an environmental mandate to keep as many cell phones out of landfills as they can.

Secure the Call says that they are the middleman by collecting the phones, processing them and then getting them into the hands of the organizations who can distribute the phones where they are needed.

There are plenty of ways to get your old phone to secure the Call. Nine hundred permanent collection barrels are located in police stations, libraries, grocery stores, and cell phone stores. Any organization, civic group or business can run a one-month drive and Secure the Call will send a collection barrel with customized signage.

The organization also has agreements with many hotels, restaurants, and car rental agencies to send phones that are found and cannot be reunited with their owners after 30 days. Phones also just have a way of showing up in their mailbox or by UPS or FedEx.

Phones that can be repurposed as emergency phones go through a "rigorous process to make sure the previous owners' information is completely wiped out and the phone is factory reset," according to the website. Sim chips are removed and shredded on site.

Many of the volunteers who help with the process are high school kids who are fulfilling their 65 hours of community service that is required for high school graduation in Maryland.

Secure the Call works with 425 community partners to get the phones to the people who need them the most. Besides domestic abuse victims, the nonprofit also provides phones to seniors.

The phones that are too broken to use are shipped to a recycling foundry that reclaims all the valuable minerals in them for reuse. The phones are not dumped in a landfill.

Another US organization that also collects old cell phones to be repurposed as 911 emergency phones are the Women's Resource Center in Rhode Island, which has drop off locations for old phones. Other organizations collect old phones to recycle, refurbish and resell to use the proceeds for their mission like The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

There are similar programs to donate old cell phones in Australia, the UK, EU, Canada, South Africa and in a country near you.

There's no time like now to clean out the junk drawer and let your phone have a new lease on life as an emergency dialer. Your good deed can literally be a lifesaver.

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