This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in the June 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Today there's no excuse for throwing an old computer, TV, or cell phone into the trash. More and more manufacturers, spurred by state and local mandates, are letting you recycle old electronic items by dropping them off or mailing them back at no charge. And some retailers recycle electronics for a small fee. (Staples generally charges $10 per piece.)
Why recycle? The cathode-ray tube in old-style TVs and computer monitors contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead, a neurotoxin. Cell phones and other electronic gadgets can contain mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and brominated flame retardants. Those toxins can leach from landfills into groundwater.
With no national electronics recycling policy, states are taking action. After the previous five years saw a total of nine states pass electronics-recycling laws, in 2008 eight states (and New York City) enacted such legislation. All but California require manufacturers to bear the cost of collecting, transporting, and recycling devices. (In California, buyers of TVs, monitors, and laptops pay a fee of $8 to $25 when they buy.)
LG (including Zenith and GoldStar brands) has 206 drop-off centers in 46 states; Samsung, more than 200 centers in 50 states. Sony has 274 nationally. Sharp, Panasonic, and Toshiba offer a combined drop-off program for TVs and audiovisual equipment at 280 sites in 50 states.
Dell offers free recycling of Dell-branded products, with prepaid shipping available online. People who buy new Dell desktop or notebook computers from its Home/Home Office site can recycle any brand of old PC equipment at no charge. Lenovo and Apple have recycling programs, too.
Cell-phone makers and service providers have recycling or reuse programs through stores and dealers. (As with computers, erase personal data from cell phones before recycling; for a free info eraser, see www.recellular.com/recycling/data_eraser/default.asp). And the nonprofit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (www.rbrc.org) maintains free drop-off points for recycling cell phones and rechargeable batteries at more than 50,000 retail stores and community waste centers across the U.S.
To see whether your town has no-fee collection, click on a map from the Telecommunications Industry Association (www.eiae.org). Additional info is at www.mygreenelectronics.com, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association.
Despite good intentions, much of this nation's e-waste is exported to developing countries, where some processing is done under hazardous conditions. To encourage responsible disposal, a new third-party audited certification program for electronics recycling, e-Stewards certification, is due to be implemented in 2010.