You received everything on your tech wish list this year, but now you’re suddenly aware of all your old tech still cluttering your home. You know you’ll never use your old gear ever again, but maybe you’re unsure of how to get rid of them safely and sustainably.
You have better options than simply holding on to them or throwing them in the trash. In this guide, we’ll go over what you need to know about preparing your old tech for recycling and take a closer look at a few of your recycling options.
Things to do before recycling or donating your old tech
If you choose to recycle or donate your old tech, you’ll need to do a few things to prep your stuff before dropping them off to be recycled. Generally speaking, the main things to consider before recycling your tech are: Backing up your data, deleting your data, and removing any batteries or peripherals.
If you’re recycling your old tech, it’s important to protect yourself from identity theft by backing up the data stored on your old devices and then deleting that data completely from the devices you are recycling. You can learn more about wiping hard drives in our how-to guide for it. Similarly, you’ll want to back up and then wipe the data from your old smartphones as well. For smartphones, this usually involves a factory reset. We’ve got guides for that too: One for wiping Android phones and tablets and one for iPhones.
Don’t forget to remove the following either: Your SIM card (you might need it for your next device), the battery (if removal is possible), and any peripherals.
How to recycle old tech at a retailer
Now that your old tech is ready to be recycled, let’s take a look at some of your recycling options. You actually have more options than you realize. You don’t have to just throw your old gadgets away. Your e-waste could be someone else’s treasure.
You don’t necessarily have to take your old tech to an actual recycling center. Many retailers and manufacturers have their own recycling programs. A number of these programs will accept old electronics from any brand or regardless of where you originally bought the items.
To make it easier to find some of these recycling programs, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of them online. The retailers and manufacturers listed are participants in an EPA program known as the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge. For now, we’re going to take a closer look at the recycling programs of two SMM Electronics Challenge participants, so you can get a sense of what to expect from them.
Generally, you can recycle up to three items per day per household for free. But there are exceptions. Large appliances and things like computer monitors can be recycled but are subject to haul-away fees. You can go to Best Buy’s website to see detailed guidelines on what they will and won’t accept for recycling. Best Buy also offers trade-in promotions, in which you can trade-in your old tech for Best Buy gift cards or discounts on new gear. You can recycle with Best Buy by bringing your stuff to a Best Buy store (at the Customer Service counter) or via their haul-away options for things like major appliances or TVs. For haul away services, it’s usually $30 per item if you’re also getting a new appliance delivered to you from Best Buy. If you’re not purchasing a new appliance from Best Buy and just want it hauled away, it’s $100.
And while Best Buy will wipe your data from your recycled devices, it does request that you clean your old tech before bringing them to be recycled.
Staples also has a free recycling program for old tech. And they too have detailed guidelines on what it will and won’t accept. You can recycle up to seven items per customer per day. All Staples stores will accept your old tech for recycling with the exception of “smaller format stores in New York City and Washington D.C.”
It will accept batteries, but only certain kinds. And for the most part, they do not accept appliances except for “coffee brewers weighing less than 40 pounds.”
Staples Rewards members can recycle ink and toner cartridges and earn up to $2 per recycled ink cartridge in rewards, for up to 20 ink and toner cartridges, per month.
How to recycle old tech at donation centers
You can also just donate your old tech to non-profits who may in turn recycle them for you or refurbish them so people in need can use them. A few examples of these donation programs include: ReConnect (a partnership between Dell and Goodwill), Computers with Causes, and Secure the Call.
ReConnect lets you recycle computers and computer accessories for free at over 2,000 Goodwill locations. Items that are donated can be resold, refurbished, or recycled. Revenue generated from the recycled items is then used to support Goodwill’s employment placement services and job training programs. Dell explains the donation process online and you can find a participating ReConnect location here.
Computers with Causes is a program that takes old computers and gives them to people in need. The recipients are often students, teachers, parents, community centers, the elderly, or shelters and foster homes. You can donate laptops, tablets, desktops, servers, and gadgets. In most cases, the stuff you donate will be given to those less fortunate. In some cases, they will be resold and the revenue from that helps to cover the shipping costs of sending donated tech to people in need. Or they will be broken down into components that can be recycled or reused.
Secure the Call is an organization that accepts donations of old phones and tablets. The phones are then given to people in need — often victims of domestic violence or seniors — who need a way to contact 911 emergency services. It works because these donated phones don’t require a paid cell phone plan to make emergency calls, they just need their batteries charged. Phones that are donated but unusable, are recycled instead.
Call2Recycle is a battery and cell phone recycling program. You can use its drop-off network to recycle your old batteries for free. The network has thousands of public collection sites. Many of these locations include retailers like The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Staples. It accepts rechargeable and single-use batteries (that weigh less than 11 pounds) and cell phones. They don’t accept car batteries or wet-cell batteries. Donated cell phones are usually refurbished and resold or recycled.
Use a local recycling center
You may have a local recycling center that accepts old tech. You can use online directories to search for ones that are local to you. Here are a couple of examples:
Earth911: Earth911 has a searchable directory that will show you recycling centers, retailers, and donation centers for all sorts of recycled materials: including electronics and batteries. You can search by material/product type and then narrow it down by zip code.
Sustainable Electronics Recycling International: This organization has a searchable directory of recycling centers that are certified for electronics recycling. It has listings for 991 facilities in 33 countries.