What to Do When Your Electronic Treasures Become Trash
Four smart ways to dispose of your old TV, cell phone or computer
We all want the newest tech gadgets. No more boxy old TV — you crave a flat–screen. Goodbye, last year’s cellphone model. And farewell, desktop computer — you need a light-as-air laptop you can tote to Starbucks. Which begs the question: what to do with your old stuff?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 47.4 million computers, 27.2 million televisions and 141 million mobile devices were ready for end–of–life management in 2009. That’s a staggering amount of technology to get rid of.
Throwing it in the garbage for trash day isn’t the answer. In many cases, your old electronics contain substances that are too hazardous to be put in a landfill, like the lead in the circuit boards of computers or the tubes in old televisions. “A lot of jurisdictions have restrictions on the disposal of electronic equipment,” says Bill Hoffman, senior scientist for sustainability standards at UL Environment.
Here are three environmentally friendly ways to send your electronics into their next life..
1. Find a way to reuse it.
“There are a lot of resources that went into these products, and conserving these resources through reuse of these products should be the first alternative to disposal,” says Hoffman. According to the EPA, there were 2.37 million tons of discarded electronics in 2009. Reusing old equipment could help that number shrink.
How can you reuse old technology?
- Transfer it to a younger member of the family. A child could use an old smartphone as an MP3 player, a teen may be thrilled with your older television and someone just off to college might want that desktop computer. Ask the people around you — they might have more use for that old stuff than you’d think.
- If you want to update your laptop or computer and you’re technologically savvy, consider switching out just the innards — the hard drive or the processor, for example —and keeping the framework of the old machine. This can save plenty of waste and might be more cost efficient, too.
2. Donate it to a good cause.
“There are several charitable organizations that will take some of these products,” Hoffman says. They include organizations that assist soldiers overseas or help victims and survivors of domestic abuse, for example. Many malls and shops will have kiosks or bins that allow you to donate old cellphones.
“There are also organizations out there that will refurbish and resell,” Hoffman says. Those organizations take old electronics and bring them to places that need them, like lower-income school districts. Search online to find a recycling program close to you (and maybe close to your heart).
One note on donating TVs: It may be very hard to donate your old Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions. Even Goodwill has stopped accepting them, citing high costs for recycling. If you can’t find a charitable outlet for a CRT TV, try to find a store or outlet that recycles them. Best Buy, for example, accepts CRT TVs of 32” inches or less and offers haul-away or pickup services for larger ones.
3. Recycle it.
If you really want to toss your electronics, take them to people who know how to dispose of them. “Responsible recycling really means getting them to organizations that are going to properly treat all of the components and pieces of the product, and handle those the safe way,” Hoffman says. If you buy a new computer or television from a chain store, check what their trade-in policies are. Those establishments might offer pickup and safe disposal of your older technologies.
Another option: There may be electronics disposal drop-off areas near where you live; check your town’s website to see if your town offers one, or use another online resource (like search.earth911.com, where you can search by technology and by geographic location). When you’re searching for a spot, Hoffman says there are few things you should look out for. “There are two certification systems for recyclers, R2 and e–Stewards,” Hoffman says. “Any collection agency or site should be using a recycler that is certified to one of these two standards.”
4. Try to get paid.
With a little luck and some research, you might be able to get a few bucks for your old technology. If you upgrade from one version of your cellphone to another, there’s a pretty good chance your carrier will allow you to trade it in for a discount toward your new phone. You carrier will reuse or recycle the old phone.
You also could try putting your electronics on the secondary market, through an auction site like eBay or a trade–in website like Gazelle. “If it’s still in demand, and there’s a low supply, it’ll be worth more,” Hoffman said. For example, certain older iPods are fetching outrageous prices on these types of sites.
A final thought: Whether you sell, donate or trade in your phone or computer, make sure to delete all of your data first.