Why You Should Upcycle Your Old Smartphone

Endless possibilities, and a safer environment

Key Takeaways

  • Samsung wants users to upcycle their Galaxy smartphones to be used in new ways. 
  • You can repurpose your old smartphone into a GPS, security camera, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and more. 
  • Experts say upcycling is also much better for the environment.
A stack of old smartphones.

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Samsung is encouraging Galaxy users to repurpose their old devices for new applications through its Galaxy Upcycling at Home Program

Experts say this upcycling route is more beneficial to smartphone users and the environment. The average American upgrades to a new smartphone every two years, so experts say we all have plenty of old devices at our disposal with almost never-ending uses. 

"Finding alternative uses for our old devices helps to reduce the growing electronic waste crisis and, in the process, can also provide a really great use for your phone," Sarah McConomy, the chief operating officer of SellCell, wrote in an email to Lifewire. 

Giving Your Old Phone a New Life 

Samsung’s recent expansion of its Galaxy Upcycling at Home Program lets Galaxy owners convert old phones into smart home devices on the company's SmartThings platform

Even though Samsung is the only company publicly advocating for people to reuse their old smartphones, experts say you can give a new life to virtually any smartphone device sitting in your junk drawer.

"Repurposing your old smartphone is one way you can lessen your impact on the environment."

Security Camera 

Samsung's upcycling program uses an improved artificial intelligence solution and the SmartThings app to detect sounds, such as a baby crying, cat meowing, or a knock. It will send an alert directly to the user's smartphone, and the user can listen to the recorded sound.

However, you also can turn other smartphone brands into security cameras to keep an eye on what’s going on outside of your home or keep tabs on a newborn or toddler.

You can install a surveillance camera app, such as Alfred, on both your old and new devices, then place the old phone where you need it for an instant security camera.

GPS 

GPS apps are known to drain your phone’s battery, so dedicating an entire phone as a GPS could increase your primary phone’s lifespan.

Someone using GPS on a smartphone in a car.

Sukanya sitthikongsak / Getty Images

"[A GPS] can help you find your car or make sure your kid doesn't go too far off the grid when she borrows the family car for a drive around town," Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at Force by Mojio, wrote in an email to Lifewire. 

"In a worst-case scenario, having a GPS tracker can also help you monitor and find your vehicle if it is stolen."

An All-Purpose Device 

"You can use your phone to play games, read ebooks, listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music, or stream video, regardless of whether or not you have an active phone plan on it," wrote Rex Freiberger, the CEO of Gadget Review, to Lifewire. 

Someone listening to a podcast on a smartphone.

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

Specifically, an app like Netshare uses a secondary Wi-Fi network and acts as a hotspot. You can easily download the app and use Wi-Fi anywhere you are. 

Digital Detox 

If you feel like you're too connected to your phone, you can use an old smartphone to separate the social media/entertainment aspects from actual phone uses like text messages or phone calls.

"Move all your social media apps, notifications, and interactions to a separate device," Mike Chu, the lead editor at Data Overhaulers, told Lifewire over email. 

"Compartmentalizing social media onto an upcycled phone makes it inconvenient to reflexively scroll your feeds while keeping your FOMO at bay."

Better for the Environment 

Any of the above uses is better than throwing out an older smartphone, since electronic waste (e-waste) is highly hazardous to the environment.

"Finding alternative uses for our old devices helps to reduce the growing electronic waste crisis and in the process can also provide a really great use for your phone."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste is the fastest-growing type of waste in America. The world produces a whopping 50 million metric tons of e-waste a year.

Many of our old or unwanted devices end up in the trash, and then in landfills. However, unlike regular trash, electronics have specific components in them that can become hazardous. "Every device contains a cocktail of poisonous metals, like mercury, that seep into the ground, waterworks, and airways, providing pollution for generations to come," McConomy added. 

McConomy said it’s much better for the environment to upcycle an old device then to simply throw it away.

"Repurposing your old smartphone is one way you can lessen your impact on the environment," she said. "You can do this in so many ways, and it has the added bonus of freeing your new smartphone up from potentially battery-draining tasks like navigation or media playback."

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