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How to recycle old electronics devices

Don't just toss them! Here's what to do with your outdated items.

Last updated: September 2013

Do you have an island of misfit gadgets somewhere 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 3-megapixel digital camera—the kind of junk even your local charity considers an insult.

The most likely reason you haven't banished these devices from your home 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 not only would this be wrong, it’s also illegal in many states. At this time, 25 states have some form of e-waste recycling legislation, according to the Electronics Takeback Coalition

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. Municipalities also offer disposal sites in many areas. In most cases, these programs are free; some retailer programs even offer store gift cards for your trade-in items.

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

Retailers

Some electronics retailers, such as Best Buy 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 Staples’ website.

Check other retailers’ websites for details of their programs.

Public programs

Nonprofit organizations and local governments also offer electronics recycling options. Call2Recycle has more than 30,000 drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries and cell phones. For a location in your area, enter your ZIP code at Call2Recycle.org.

Some towns sponsor collection days for TVs and other electronics. To find out if one is scheduled in your area, click on the map at TIA E-cycling Central by the Telecommunications Industry Association. You can also get information about manufacturer, retailer, and local recycling programs through the Environmental Protection Agency’s eCycling initiative.

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. We recommend Eraser for Windows-based computers; Apple computers have an erase feature built in.

Manufacturers

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 program, 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 DellReconnect 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 your new equipment.

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

Lenovo takes back only its own Medion, and Iomega products and certain IBM branded products. (You can email Lenovo at environment@lenovo.com to check which IBM products it recycles). Customers can either schedule a free pickup or bring the product to a post-office drop-off location. Rechargeable batteries from Lenovo products can be recycled through the Call2Recycle program, a nonprofit financed by product manufacturers. To find a drop-off location in your area, go to Call2Recycle's website. According to the site, there are more than 30,000 throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Toshiba offers a few options for recycling or repurposing gear. A Recycling Locator offers a number of options based on your answers to questions such as whether the item works and if it’s a Toshiba device. In addition to drop-off locations, the locator offers options such as selling, exchanging, or donating your device. Choosing Sell or Exchange takes you Radio Shack’s trade-in website. For Toshiba-branded products, the company also offers a free mail-in program.

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 recently introduced an in-store iPhone 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 carriers' equipment for recycling and reuse in take-back programs.

Most electronics manufacturers have some sort of take-back program in place. For specific details on their programs, check the manufacturers' websites.

   

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