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How to Recycle Your Electronics

Recycle Electronics
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The fun part about technology: Everyone loves something shiny and new, but what do you do with that mind-blowing gadget once it has lost its luster? You can throw it into the drawer or the trash, or you could do the smart thing – recycle it instead. Here’s how.

The Prep Work

As much as you’d like to go all “Office Space” on some of those electronics from years’ past, that can get messy. It’s also not too environmentally friendly, considering that there are glass, plastic, metals, and plenty of other non-biodegradable goodies inside and out that need to be dealt with. What’s more, you also need to be certain that they are being recycled properly.

That’s right; as good as your intentions are, some people’s recycling services are about as effective as throwing your devices right in the trash. That’s bad. “The average CRT tube on any monitor or television holds between six to eight pounds of lead. It needs to be properly processed,” says Rachel Robin of Guaranteed Recycling Xperts (GRX), a Colorado-based recycling business that handles about one million pounds of electronics each month. “Once that glass is crushed and open, the lead is exposed to the environment.” Robin says that instead of recycling, some shadier firms even sell the items to overseas brokers instead.

To find a reputable recycler in your area, check out, a site sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association. From there, you can type in your zip code and a map will help you pinpoint nearby drop-offs ready to take your gadgets.

In addition, before you go anywhere, make sure that you “clean,” or wipe the memory of, any devices that might contain personal information. That “property of” label on the back of your old 8-track might come off easily, but credit card info, social security numbers and other personal data aren’t as easily erased. Mercifully, there are plenty of programs, such as DataEraser and WipeDrive, that can do the job for you. Of course, if you are really paranoid, in the case of a Mac or PC, you can always remove the hard drive from the computer and stick it in a drawer, smash it with a hammer, etc. If you are still unsure how to clean your drive, check out our nifty guide on how to completely erase your hard drive.

Who Takes What

The good news is that almost every major retailer and manufacturer has some type of recycling program. Best Buy will take cell phones, rechargeable batteries, and ink-jet cartridges at no cost. They will also take larger items, such as TVs, refrigerators, and laundry machines for free—but only if you’re buying a replacement from them. Costco and Staples also provide discounts for trade-in PCs, game consoles, MP3 players and other devices.

Not all retailers offer free recycling. However, Office Depot has a decent deal. Purchase a small ($5), medium ($10) or large ($15) box and cram it until your heart’s content (and the lid can still close). Take it to the store, and they will take care of it from there.

Alternately, instead of going to a retailer, you can always go straight to the source. Or, in plain English, there are also plenty of manufacturers that want to see you through the life of your device—including after it’s become a member of the dearly departed. Samsung, Lexmark, Dell, Sony and Toshiba are just a few of the many companies that offer recycling options.

Granted, the amount of choices when it comes to picking a recycling provider can be overwhelming. But relax. Websites such as Earth911 and E-cycling Central provide a peek at some of the better recycling services in your area.

Office Depot Recycling Program
Office Depot Recycling Program

Cash for Trash

Something else worth keeping in mind: Sure, we all want to be nice to Mother Nature, but it’s also nice getting a little cash back on old investments. To reap these rewards, see Gazelle and TechForward, which offer buy-back and recycling programs for old cameras, MP3 players, laptops, game consoles, GPS devices, cell phones and other gizmos. Some offer trade-ins or cash, which you can pocket or turn over to a charity if you’re feeling guilty about that extra loot.

Gazelle Screenshot
Gazelle Screenshot

Reduce, Reuse – Re-Gift It!

Of course, there are plenty of ways to recycle your old goods without having to deal with a big company or online storefront. After all, everyone loves a freebie.

For instance, consider posting one of your unwanted devices to Freecycle or Craigslist, then sit back and watch magic happen. Both sites are a perfect example of how people can’t seem to pass up freebies. Mind you, you probably don’t want to post your home address on either site, but allowing interested parties to drop you an email wouldn’t hurt. Oh, and email they will—sometimes within a matter of seconds. As with any meet-up-style service, you’ll want to be careful about who you let into your home or where you meet someone to give away your items. However, expect anything you post to be scarfed up in record time.

Charitable organizations are also clamoring for your old goods—just not in a stalker-ish way. The National Cristina Foundation accepts computers, peripherals and software. Then, not only do they place the equipment with schools, people with disabilities, and just those in need of a little help, but they provide training as well. Cells for Cells takes in—you guessed it—cell phones. However, instead of turning them around to others in need of a calling device, they turn them into cash, which is then passed on to families battling cancer. Note that there are a variety of additional charities that can also turn your trash into true treasure—which can also be tax deductible.

So instead of cramming more into the nation’s landfills or your dresser drawers, next time you’re pondering a high-tech upgrade, remember that there are plenty of ways to recycle your old electronics. Better still, doing something good for the environment could help you earn a little cash to put towards a down payment, and make you feel that much better about your shiny new purchase.

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Scott Steinberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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