We go through electronic devices so fast that we haven’t even come up with a universally agreed-upon method for disposing of them. Yes, we must recycle. But how, and where? We could donate, but whom to? This post answers all your questions about how to recycle old electronics, when to donate, and what to look out for in terms of data protection.
- Electronics and Circularity
- How To Repurpose Your Old Smartphone
- What Electronics Can You Recycle?
- What to Do Before You Recycle Old Electronics
- Certifications for Electronics Recycling
- Where to Recycle Old Electronics
- How to Dispose of Batteries Safely?
- Should You Pay for Recycling?
- Where to Donate Old Electronics
- Final Tip: Call Ahead
Did you get the latest iPhone? Even if you didn’t, you probably know several people who did. Android phones too. According to Counterpoint Research, the total number of global smartphone sales In 2021 was about 1.39 billion units. According to Statista, in 2021, 342 million PCs were shipped around the world.
But where do the old devices go? On average, how often do Americans replace their phone? Gallup conducted a survey in 2015 and got some surprising results:
54% of US smartphone users upgrade their phone “only when it stops working or becomes totally obsolete.” 44% said they upgrade as soon as their cell phone provider allows it, usually every two years. Only 2% of the audience upgrade “when a new model is released, usually about every year.”
Granted, this was a 2015 survey and is probably quite outdated now. But hopefully more of us choose the first option now, of replacing our smartphone only when it stops working or becomes obsolete. And also then choosing to buy secondhand or refurbished electronics.
Again, though: where do the old devices go? Into that drawer we all have at home, filled with used electronics? Well, there are other options when it comes to getting rid of your old electronics.
Electronics and Circularity
Fun fact: there are more cell phones than there are people on Earth. All of these devices end up as e-waste sooner or later.
What is E-waste?
Electronic waste or e-waste includes waste electronic items such as computers, their components, microwaves, TVs, washing machines, toys, etc – anything with electronic components in them. So, e-waste basically refers to electronic products that have become unwanted or obsolete, or have reached the end of their useful life.
Irresponsible Handling of E-Waste
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled; the rest of it ends up in landfills, or in incinerators.
Or, they are illegally exported to developing countries in an “out of sight, out of mind” type of solution. In such cases, e-waste often ends up improperly dealt with – and toxic parts end up being discarded and polluting the local ecosystem. Not only do such countries not have adequate resources to responsibly dispose of the e-waste, but they also employ underprivileged workers to sort through the huge mounds of e-waste, putting their health at risk.
Need any more reasons to make sure you properly recycle your e-waste?
What Gets Recycled?
Electronic devices have precious metals such as gold in their circuit boards, copper in the connective wires and silver in the solder. Properly recycling these materials can extract the maximum quantities of precious metals, which can then be sold or turned into something new.
Mobile phone batteries are recycled and made into new smartphone batteries. Zinc and aluminum can be extracted from laptops and tablets and used to make metal plates, jewelry, etc.
How To Repurpose Your Old Smartphone
There are several ways you can repurpose old devices that still work. You could turn your Android phone (or iPhone) into a home security camera:
You could also repurpose your Android phone to become a wireless mouse, a photo storage device or a Nintendo Game Boy. Numerous possibilities exist for repurposing your old smartphone!
What Electronics Can You Recycle?
You can recycle pretty much any electronic item, from laptops and smartphones, to washing machines, toasters and refrigerators. Just get in touch with your local recycler (or one of the recyclers listed below) and ask them if they will accept your old electronic gadget.
Can you recycle electronic cords?
Cords, chargers, plugs can all be recycled. Check out your local Best Buy for details, or look out for any local e-cycling events in your area.
Can you recycle keyboards?
Yes. You can take your used keyboard to places that have electronic recycling programs. They will recycle your keyboard in the most environmentally friendly manner.
Electronic Items That Can Be Recycled
TVs, cables and chargers, media players, projectors, laptops, hard drives, webcams, cellphones, calculators, radios, landlines, headsets, vacuums, fans, ink and toner cartridges, alarm clocks, speaker systems, e-readers, video game consoles, memory cards, camcorders, digital cameras, GPS devices and more, as well as batteries attached or installed in devices.
What to Do Before You Recycle Old Electronics
Now, before you give away your electronic device, make sure you back up all the data in it. Do a factory reset, so that all your personal info is wiped out (including stored passwords). Unpair any gadgets from the devices still with you. Here’s some helpful instructions:
>> How to Wipe Your Phone or Tablet Before Selling It
>> How to Reset Your Laptop Before Selling It
I suspect one of the reasons we all shove our old electronics into that drawer at home is because we’re not sure how to safely wipe our data before giving it away. It’s definitely safer in the drawer than in someone else’s hands, right? This is a very valid concern, since smartphones are mini-computers, and it isn’t enough to just remove the SIM card and the storage drive. Hopefully the instructions above will help!
Certifications for Electronics Recycling
The US has two standards for recycling electronics, with certification programs that need to be rigorously maintained. Check if your local electronics recycler has either one of these:
1 / e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Reuse, Recycling and Disposition of Electronic Equipment
2 / Responsible Recycling (R2) Practices
Having either of these certifications would make one a trustworthy, certified electronics recycler.
Where to Recycle Old Electronics
Check out the Consumer Technology Association’s Recycle Locator to find a recycler near you. Many recyclers offer oick-up or drop-off services, and regular e-waste collection events. Check their certifications, and/or call and have a chat with them. Ask them what they will be doing with your donated electronic equipment.
Usually recyclers will first check if the device can be refurbished and resold. If that is not possible, they will either manually dismantle the electronics (known as demanufacturing) to extract and sell the recyclable raw materials and components that can be reused in secondary markets. Alternatively, they perform shredding, so they can recover the maximum value from the recyclable metals in used electronics.
The following places will also help you with recycling your old electronics:
1 // Best Buy
Best Buy directly accepts a wide range of electronic items, and has a limit of three items per house per day. They also have a haul-away option for larger appliances like dishwashers, freezers, fridges, and exercise bikes.
2 // Home Depot
Home Depot has a drop-off service for its customers. They have partnered with Call2Recycle, a nonprofit battery recycling program, specifically for battery recycling, but they accept many different types of electronic items as part of their circularity efforts.
3 // Staples
Staples offers free recycling of your old electronics, especially office supplies like printers, cartridges, etc. They accept up to seven items per customer per day. Staples has haul-away options, driver pickup, and prepaid address labels for mail in options.
4 // EcoATM
EcoATM will buy your old phone from you and then recycle it. You first get a price estimate from ecoATM for your old phone. They take details of your phone via their app, such as your old device’s IMEI number, and the phone’s brand, model, memory, carrier, etc., and then provide you with a quote, which you can lock in. Then, you can head to their nearest kiosk (at Walmart, Dollar General, etc.) where you drop off your phone and collect your money.
ecoATM has collected over 30 million devices over the past two decades that have been given new life or properly recycled.
5 // Earth911
Earth911 has a recycling locator where you can find the closest center to turn in your old phones. Earth911 works with Lowe’s and Target, and with local waste and recycling centers.
6 // Smartphone Recycling
Smartphone Recycling is a bulk recycling program that has saved over 10 million smartphones, cell phones & tablets from the landfill. They take a minimum of 10 devices, so this option may be for the worst offenders among us. But it could also be a good suggestion for your office to consider, or your neighborhood, etc. Combine all old cell phones and send them to Smartphone Recycling.
7 // US Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA’s directory of places to donate or recycle electronic devices is very useful, and they also have handy information regarding recycling.
How to Dispose of Batteries Safely?
We all know that we shouldn’t throw nickel cadmium batteries in the garbage. But how many of us actually take the trouble to send batteries to the right place for recycling? Nickel cadmium batteries are made from poisonous materials, so they need to be responsibly handled and recycled. A lot of other batteries are dangerous in other ways. From now on, make sure you send your used batteries for recycling.
You can send your batteries to these places (and finally empty that drawer!) for safe recycling:
1 / Battery Recyclers of America
Battery Recyclers of America can help you find a battery disposal center near you
2 / Best Buy
Free disposal of household batteries
3 / Firestone
Safely dispose of your car batteries
4 / Call2Recycle
Call2Recycle is a battery-focused recycling program that offers free drop-off options at various locations (including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Staples). They also have shipment boxes for batteries and cell phones, costing between $45 and $115, depending on size.
You can send rechargeable batteries, single-use batteries, and button cell batteries to them. Call2Recycle also accepts all cell phones and their batteries for recycling, as well as e-bike batteries. Find a battery drop-off location near you.
Should You Pay for Recycling?
You may think that recycling ought to be free, but it isn’t that simple. While most electronic devices can be dropped off for recycling for free, some gadgets contain dangerous substances and need special handling. For example, a cathode ray tube (CRT) TV contains about six pounds of lead, which makes it very dangerous to handle and process.
Similarly, printers, large home appliances, cartridges, etc are among those electronic devices that are dangerous to handle by recyclers, and therefore require us to pay a fee to recycle them. Which is totally fine, when you think about it: you’d be paying to safely dispose of the items from your home as well as to keep it from damaging the environment.
Where to Donate Old Electronics
Want to donate your electronics that are still functioning well to a good cause? These are some very good causes that you could support:
1 / Recycling for Charities
2 / Goodwill
3 / World Computer Exchange
4 / Cell Phones For Soldiers
5 / Pickup Please
6 / Computers With Causes
7 / National Cristina Foundation
8 / Secure the Call
Final Tip: Call Ahead
Once you find a suitable, trustworthy recycler near you, first give them a call and make sure they can help you. Website info may be outdated, or they may be too backed up with items to be recycled. They may be operating at a commercial level, etc. You’ll be doing yourself and them a favor by calling and discussing ahead of time!
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