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Without turning off this feature your donated iPhone will go straight to the scrap pile

Thanks to a feature associated with the Find My iPhone security app, a new report says tens of thousands of fully-functioning iPhones donated every year end up being scrapped for parts. 

According to a report by Colorado Public Interest Research Group, CoPIRG, a feature called ‘activation lock’ which is meant to lock users’ iPhone’s in the event that they’re stolen or lost, also prevented 66,000 phones from being reused over a three year period.   

The Wireless Alliance, a nationwide electronics recycling facility who was cited in the group’s study, said that one in four phones they received in 2018 had an activation lock still present.

Thanks to a feature associated with the Find My iPhone security app, a new report says tens of thousands of fully-functioning iPhones donated every year end up being scrapped for parts.


E-waste-connected health risks can result from direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, or brominated flame retardants.

They are also triggered by inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as from accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food.

In addition to its hazardous components, being processed, e-waste can give rise to a number of toxic by-products likely to affect human health, according to the World Health Organisation.


‘While the activation lock is intended to deter thieves by making stolen phones unusable and therefore not worth stealing in the first place, it has also resulted in making a surprisingly high number of donated or handed-down phones unusable, having negative impacts on our environment and the used phone marketplace,’ reads the report. 

Most mobile users can attest to the effectiveness of Find My iPhone for locating lost devices; the app allows users to track and secure their phone with an iCloud login using GPS location, by activating a siren so the phone can be located audibly, and, of course, by locking the phone to maintain security.  

The downside is iPhone donors who fail to turn the feature off before handing their phones over for reuse effectively ensure no one — even well-meaning and legitimate owners — can use the device.

‘If someone does not turn off the activation lock on their phone before they drop their phone in a donation box, their phone can’t be reused as a whole device and will be unusable,’ reads the report. 

The results, says the report, could end up significantly impacting the environment. 

In the U.S. alone, 416,000 phones are discarded every day and many of them eventually end up in landfills. 

This means not only more garbage buried in the Earth but also ensures that the environmental footprint of manufacturing phones continues to widen. 

The usage of cell phones contributes far less to greenhouse gases compared to the manufacturing. 

According to Apple, 77 percent of the greenhouse gas the company produces come from the manufacturing process alone. 

To help counteract the process CoPIRG says manufacturers and recyclers should work arm-in-arm to develop a system by which phones with activation locks present can be unlocked and recycled.

That process could involve using a database of phone identification numbers to verify whether or not the device has been reported stolen or alternatively a notification could be sent to the donor allowing them to unlock the phone remotely. 

In the meantime, however, anyone looking to pass their phone on to another person may just have to rely on following a few simple steps.

Read more:

  • Locked Out | CoPIRG

Without turning off this feature your donated iPhone will go straight to the scrap pile

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