Electronics Overload—What To Do With Old Electronics

Perhaps you upgraded this year to some newer and better electronics these year. Well done! But now, you are staring at that island of misfit gadgets in your home. You know, like that cell phone that dates back to the flip era, a laptop that requires regular biceps curls to lug from room to room, or that once cutting edge, three-megapixel digital camera.

The most likely reason you haven’t banished these devices from you home yet is that recycling them is such a hassle. Admittedly, it’s much easier to toss these relics in the trash than it is to dispose of them properly—but of course this is just wrong.
Electronic products are made from valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass, all of which require energy to mine and manufacture. Donating or recycling consumer electronics conserves our natural resources and avoids air and water pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by manufacturing virgin materials.

Disposing of digital detritus appropriately may take a little research, but often it’s as easy as bringing the junk with you on your next shopping trip. Most electronics manufacturers have programs in place to take items back, either at drop-off locations or through the mail. And retailers often have bins for depositing items such as spent batteries.

Tip: Your old phone or camera may be junk to you, but someone else might think it’s the bomb. Before you give it up for recycling, consider selling it, donating it, or trading it in.

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Some electronics retailers, such as BestBuy and Staples, offer in-store drop-off programs for electronics of all kinds, from computers to fax machines. Best Buy offers recycling kiosks for items such as ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, cords, and cables, and will accept most electronics gear at the customer service counter. You can schedule in-home pickup of a TV for a fee; if you’re having a new set delivered, haul-away of the old one is free.

Staples offers $2 in Staples Rewards for empty ink and toner cartridges. Staples will also recycle other technology devices you bring in at no cost. Accepted items are listed on the Staples’ website.

Check other retailers’ websites for details of the programs.

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Public Programs

Nonprofit organizations and local governments also offer electronics recycling options. Call2Recycle has more than 50 drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries and cell phones in the Harris County Area For a location in your specific area, enter your ZIP code at Call2Recycle.org

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Recycler Oversight

Despite good intentions, much of this nation’s e-waste is exported to developing countries, where processing is done under unsafe conditions and endangers workers and nearby communities. Some progress has been made to end this practice through certification programs. One such program is e-Stewards.

According to e-Stewards, recyclers who meet their certification requirements don’t export to developing nations. They follow safe practices for the handling of electronic waste, and adhere to other standards. Many will also reuse and refurbish equipment. To find a recycler in your area, check the map and sort by state at e-Stewards’ website.

Tip: Before recycling a phone, make sure your service has been deactivated and erase all personal information. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you wipe your device by using the phone’s factory reset or hard reset. Remove or erase SIM and SD cards. See the FTC’s Disposing of Your Mobile Device website for more information. Before recycling a computer, erase all data from your hard drive. Try Eraser for Windows-based computers; Apple computers have an erase feature built in.

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Most manufacturers now provide their own nationwide take-back programs for electronics in addition to sponsoring local events. But these programs vary widely in their quality and effectiveness.

One of the most exemplary is Dell’s. Through its Reconnect computer recycling programs, you can drop off any brand of used equipment in any condition at more than 2,000 participating Goodwill donation centers. It’s free, and you’ll get a receipt for tax purposes. The Dell Reconnect website has a list of the products that are accepted, and you can enter your ZIP code to find the nearest location.

The company also offers free pickup of its products by FedEx, even if you’re not buying a new Dell product. You just print a label through the company’s website, package the item, and either drop it off at a FedEx location or call for a pickup. And if you’re buying a Dell product, the company will pick up non-Dell products when you select the free recycling option at the time of purchase. Dell doesn’t provide packing material, but you can use the box from the new equipment.

Dell also takes back spent ink and toner cartridges. You can drop them off at the Staples store or mail them by printing a free shipping label.

Apple provides free recycling of any brand of computer. If the item has monetary value, the company will apply the value to an Apple gift card. Return an iPod to an Apple Retail Store (or mail it in) for a 10 percent purchase discount on a purchase of a new iPod at an Apple store. Apple also offers a trade in program.

For outmoded cell phones, some manufacturers and most cellular service providers have recycling programs in place through their stores and authorized dealers, accepting all carrier’s equipment for recycling and reuse in take-back programs.

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Pay It Forward

The best option really, is to give your old technology to someone who needs it more than you do. Find an organization that restores old tech and distributes it when it will do the most good. Computerswithcauses.org, for example, will wipe everything from your device, reinstall an operating system and software, replace and broken bits, and distribute it to a nonprofit organization. If you’re donating a laptop or a phone, you can mail it in, and InterConnection will pay the shipping, provided that it still works and is less than seven years old. The rest it sends to a certified recycler.

Now, you can feel up to date with your brand new electronics AND right by the environment.