How to Remove Personal Information From a Cell Phone for Recycling

By Phil Hoops

Protect your personal cell phone data.
i cell phone call image by Donald Joski from

Phone recycling programs are beneficial, as they take otherwise useless cell phones and find ways to keep them out of landfills. Most programs, such as the 911 Cell Phone Bank, will either reprogram or recycle the components of your phone. However, before you consider donating to such charities, you should always wipe your phone's memory clean to prevent personal photos, music and contacts from ending up in the wrong hands. In only a few minutes, you can erase the data from your phone.

Call your cellular provider and have your phone deactivated. This will prevent you from being charged for usage of the phone that you are donating.

Remove your phone's SD (Secure Digital) card (if applicable). By doing so, you will remove all of your saved media, such as photos, music, games and video from the phone. Place this card somewhere safe in the event you want to retrieve the data later.

Remove your phone's SIM card, which is a small rectangular card located underneath the battery. This only applies to phones that run on GSM networks, like AT&T and T-Mobile. Removing the SIM card will strip your phone of all its calling capabilities outside of being able to dial (911). In addition, your contacts and past text messages will be removed, as they are housed on the SIM card as well.

Perform a "master clear" on your phone if it runs on a CDMA carrier's network, such as Verizon or Sprint. Phones that run on these types of networks do not have a SIM card, thus you must erase the data entirely. This process varies depending on the model of phone that you have (See Resources); however, it generally involves going into the system settings of the phone. A master clear will erase all data stored on your phone and restore it to factory settings.