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Looking for ways to live more sustainably? Take a minute to learn how to properly recycle old electronics (aka electronic waste). These devices, after all, can't be tossed in your typical trash can or recycling bin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), electronics often contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and copper. These substances are dangerous for the environment, as well as the workers who handle them.
"[Recycling electronics] has become increasingly important with the continued advancements in technology," Gilbert Michaud, PhD, a professor at Ohio University who studies energy and sustainability, tells Hunker. Plus, nearly everyone owns electronic devices, he adds, stressing the need for proper disposal practices.
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If you're unsure where to start, don't worry — this guide explains it all. Ahead, learn how to recycle electronic waste along with useful resources and tips.
What Is Electronic Waste?
According to the EPA, the term "electronic waste" refers to electronic devices that are no longer wanted or useful. The devices might be outdated, broken, or both. Electronic waste is also known as "e-waste," "e-scrap," and "end-of-life electronics." Don't let the name fool you, though. Electronic waste is not actual "waste," as it contains valuable materials that can be re-used and re-sold in their raw form.
But what counts as electronic waste, exactly? Here's a non-exhaustive list, according to the Environmental Health & Safety Department at the University of California Santa Cruz:
- computer monitors
- computer mice
- circuit cables
- digital watches
- lamps and flashlights
- e-readers and tablets
- landline phones
- digital and video cameras
- DVD, CD, and MP3 players
- video game consoles
- kitchen appliances, like toasters and coffee makers
- lab equipment, like microscopes
As you can see, e-waste includes many of the items we use every day. What's more, some devices (like VCRs and landline phones) are obsolete, meaning you'll likely want to toss them sooner rather than later.
How to Recycle Electronic Waste
Ready to responsibly recycle your e-waste? Here are three ways:
1. Donate to a charity or non-profit organization.
Even if a device is no longer suitable for your lifestyle, it might be a game changer for someone else. Consider donating your old electronics to a local non-profit program, such as a senior center or recreational facility. Some organizations might even accept and fix broken devices before passing them on.
Ask organizations in your area if they need technology donations. Depending on the program, they might have certain restrictions or requests. You can also check out these programs that collect and give used electronics to those in need:
2. Visit a recycler.
"Many states and cities have e-waste recycling programs that accept [the items listed above]," says Michaud. You can find info about such programs on local government websites like the official state website of Connecticut or the official city website of Beacon in New York. Some areas also have recycling programs that aren't affiliated with the local government but offer similar services.
If you're unsure where to look, do a Google search for "electronic waste recycling" followed by your state, city, or county. You can also search for local recyclers on websites like:
It's worth noting that some programs might charge a small fee for pick-ups or drop-offs. Check the website before moving forward to make sure you know what to expect.
3. Bring electronics to companies or stores.
Many manufacturers and retailers have electronic recycling programs. In some cases, this includes buy-back incentives, meaning the company offers store credit or gift cards in exchange for your old devices. It's the ultimate win-win if you're trying to get rid of old gadgets.
Visit the EPA's website for a list of such programs. Examples include:
- Best Buy: Recycle electronic devices, appliances, and even fitness equipment at Best Buy. The best part? They'll do it for free.
- Apple: Thanks to Apple's Trade In program, you can recycle old Apple products in exchange for store credit. They'll even accept some non-Apple products, like the Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel.
- Sprint: Trade in your old devices for store credit through the Sprint Buyback program.
- Epson: Recycle old Epson printers, scanners, and more via Epson's recycling program.
- Office Depot: To recycle old ink and toner cartridges, visit your local Office Depot.
- Amazon. From e-readers to wireless routers, the Amazon Trade-In program accepts a wide range of devices. Amazon will re-sell or recycle the device and give you an Amazon.com gift card in return.
- IKEA: Some stores will recycle old batteries, cell phones, and mattresses for you.
- Staples: You can recycle old rechargeable batteries at Staples's store locations.
How to Minimize E-Waste
In addition to properly recycling electronic waste, you can also make moves to reduce e-waste to begin with. Check out these tips:
- Before buying the latest electronic gadget, consider if you can make do with the options you already have. Can you upgrade the software or hardware? Can it be fixed?
- Limit the number of devices you own. When shopping for new electronics, try picking a device that serves more than one purpose.
- Take care of the electronics you have. Invest in a protective case and avoid overcharging the batteries. This will extend the life of your devices, thus reducing the need for new gadgets.