If you’re like most people, you probably have old electronics somewhere in your house. According to a World Economic Forum report, every person in the US generates around 44 pounds of e-waste annually. That’s a whole lot of electronics that don’t have to end up in a landfill. If you don’t want to throw your electronics in the trash, here’s how to recycle your devices properly.
What Is E-Waste?
E-waste (an abbreviation of electronic waste) is a collective term for discarded electrical devices, such as old TVs, computers, cell phones, speakers, home appliances, and anything with a cord, plug, or battery.
Many factors have contributed to the rising problem of e-waste. The rapid pace of technology has created a situation where consumers are upgrading their devices more often. Some manufacturers even employ planned obsolescence as part of their strategy now. That means they intentionally design devices to become obsolete after a certain time to ensure demand for new devices continues to grow.
In addition, many states grapple with how to recycle electronics on a large scale. Some states don’t even have e-waste laws at all. As a result, e-waste has become “the fastest growing domestic waste stream,” according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Can Electronics Be Thrown In The Trash?
There are certain electronics that should never be thrown in the trash. These include computers, monitors, laptops, cellphones, and printers. Throwing these in the trash is not only harmful to the environment, but it could also be illegal.
Part of knowing how to recycle electronics involves determining what you can and cannot throw away. With that said, there are electronic parts that are considered harmless. These include electronics with zinc, aluminum, copper, and gold. However, it is more environmentally-friendly to recycle them to reduce the mining activity done to extract these metals.
It’s important to note that these electronics contain metals that can turn hazardous when mixed with sulfur, mercury, or Beryllium oxide. Devices with these toxic materials include batteries, computer monitors, and certain light bulbs.
When electronics are thrown in the trash, there are harmful chemicals that leak into the ground. As a result, they can contaminate the groundwater and the soil. Direct contact with (and inhalation of) the chemicals in e-waste such as lead, cadmium, and chromium can pose serious health risks.
To solve this, a number of states have made it illegal to throw certain electronics in the trash. For example, New York City’s Guidelines for Electronic Disposal imposes a fine on anyone who throws their televisions, computer peripherals, monitors, and more in the trash. Similarly, the District of Columbia’s Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014 makes it illegal to throw away TVs and computer monitors with screens larger than six inches.
To find out what e-waste landfill bans your state has enacted, check out this list from the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER). However, even if your state doesn’t have e-waste laws, it’s still a good idea to learn how to recycle electronics properly.
How to Recycle Your Electronics Properly
There are a couple of ways you can properly recycle electronic waste. These include selling your devices online, trading them in, or donating them to charity. You can also send them to a reputable recycling facility.
If your devices are still in good condition, you can try selling them online. There are lots of online marketplaces that you can use to sell your old electronics, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
- eBay: With eBay, you can sell your used electronics to a market with millions of shoppers. To use the platform, just sign up for an eBay account and create a listing. Sellers get 50 free listings every month on eBay. After that, you will be charged 30 cents per listing. There’s also a 10% final value fee in addition to the payment processing fees. Make sure to consider these fees when pricing your devices.
- Facebook Marketplace: Facebook Marketplace features easy-to-use tools for posting a listing. Simply upload photos, add a description, and set a price and your location. You can then post your listing to any buy and sell Facebook groups that you are a part of. You can also meet the buyer in person or use Messenger or PayPal to receive your payment.
- Gazelle: Gazelle is an online marketplace website for buying and selling used electronics. You can sell your old Apple products or cell phones from Google, LG, HTC, Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, and Samsung. You will receive your device’s trade-in value through an Amazon gift card, PayPal credit, or check.
- ecoATM: ecoATM makes selling and recycling your device easy. All you have to do is drop off your old cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets at any of their kiosks across the nation. The ATM will calculate a price for your device based on its model, condition, and value in the secondary market. The ATM will then dispense cash for the device you turned in.
Trade Them In
Manufacturers and big-box retailers have trade-in programs that allow you to recycle electronics properly. These programs usually offer cash or store credit for bringing in your old and damaged electronics.
- Amazon: You can get an Amazon gift card for trading in eligible items listed in the Amazon Trade-In Store. This includes Kindle e-readers, tablets, streaming devices, smart speakers, headphones, speakers, video doorbells, security cameras, cell phones, game consoles, and more. Amazon will provide you with a prepaid shipping label, and you will have the appraisal value added to your gift card once the device is received.
- Apple: With Apple’s trade-in program, you can get hundreds of dollars back when you trade in your old Apple or Android devices. All you have to do is send your old devices through mail or bring them to an Apple store. Apple will give you a trade-in estimate, which can be added to an Apple gift card or go towards the purchase of a new device. Apple also offers to recycle devices that are not eligible for trade-in credit. If you want to know more about the Apple Trade-In program, check out our article here.
- Best Buy: With Best Buy’s Trade-In program, you can get money for your old cell phones, tablets, MP3 players, game consoles, and more. There are also ongoing promotions where you can save money on a new device when you trade in an eligible item.
By donating your old electronics to charity, you can help others in need and get a tax break.
- Computers with Causes: Computers with Causes runs a Giving Center program to help individuals and non-profit organizations in need. You can donate laptops, tablets, desktops, and even surplus bulk computers for a tax deduction. All you have to do is fill out a donation form then ship the item or schedule a pickup.
- World Computer Exchange: The World Computer Exchange (WCE) is a non-profit organization that provides computers to youth in developing countries. They accept desktops, laptops, tablets, readers, and more. You can drop your devices off at a WCE chapter or send them through the mail to their Boston chapter.
- Secure the Call: Secure the Call is a charitable organization that gives free 911 emergency-only cell phones to senior citizens, domestic abuse victims, and law enforcement agencies. You can send your phone through the US Post Office using a prepaid mailer or host a cell phone drive at your local business or organization.
There are many electronics recyclers that offer to take apart electronics and mine the metals and other reusable parts. However, the dumping of e-waste from the US to developing countries is an issue that hounds these businesses. When looking for a recycler in your area, make sure that they have an R2 certification. This way, you can rest assured that they follow sustainable practices.
A list of R2-certified recyclers is available from The Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI) website. SERI also keeps a list of non-certified recyclers. In addition, you can check Earth 911’s Recycling Search.
Now that you know how to recycle your electronics, don’t forget to factory reset your devices before disposing of them. To find out more, check out our guides on how to reset your iPhone, how to reset your Windows 10 PC, and how to reset your Mac computer.