We love our computers and smartphones and gadgets. That is, until they stop working. Then these devices and their peripherals such as printers and monitors, not to mention the cases and batteries and cables and accessories, often become burdensome electronic garbage.
Gadgets aren’t made to last, after all. No computer or phone maker is going to mind if you upgrade every year or two. In fact, they count on it. Consequently, all this junk ends up in the back of your closet or stored in your garage, collecting dust, because you aren’t sure what to do with it.
The best thing to do is donate or recycle it. Contribute your old computers and phones to groups that will fix and clean them and put them back into circulation. Even the oldest computer—something you consider the most obsolete of digital dinosaurs—can probably be used by someone.
There are times, though, when a device is too far gone. There’s nothing that can be done to bring it back to life again. Even a charity doesn’t want unusable rubbish. That junk—called e-waste—is potentially dangerous. Electronics are filled with “heavy metals” (read: toxic metals) and carcinogenic chemicals that are fine when you’re using them, but not so much when sitting in a landfill or, worse, when people recycle them incorrectly. Thousands of tons of e-waste are shipped overseas yearly to countries like China and India, where it gets dumped and maybe burned, which puts mercury and lead into the air.
So, here are the places you can take your old or even dead electronics, so they can either end up being used by someone in need or safely recycled.
The Best Places to Recycle Tech
This program is run by the Basel Action Network (BAN), a nonprofit dedicated to confronting environmental injustice caused by toxic chemicals worldwide. It created e-Stewards Certification to address what it says the government does not: “prevent the toxic materials in electronics from continuing to cause long term harm to human health and the environment.”
BAN and e-Stewards Recyclers even called on the US to halt all exports of e-waste generated by the federal government after a July 2015 UN report found the US makes more e-waste than anyone—a million tons a year more than China, 80 percent of which goes to Asia. It’s unconscionable.
Check out the list of e-Stewards Recyclers on the site. By using one, you can be reassured that you are taking your digital detritus to someone you can trust to recycle it in the safest way possible.
The nationwide electronics retailer has, arguably, the best recycling program going. Its website details exactly what the store will take (small tube TVs, Bluetooth headsets, software, UPS battery backups, to name a few) and what it won’t (projection TVs, tube TVs over 32 inches, rooftop dish antennas, hard drives, old cassettes, VHS tapes, and 8-tracks, go figure.) Small items such as ink/toner, old cables, and batteries can go in recycling kiosks right by the door.
The list of devices Best Buy will accept for recycling is long. If it won’t take an item in-store, it might pick it up. That goes for several large kitchen appliances, plus old CRT televisions over 32 inches in size. Check the listing for your state, however, as this could differ depending on local laws.
What’s the catch? Not much. You can take in up to three items per day. It doesn’t matter if you bought it there or not. It’s mostly free: if you bring in a small tube TV or CRT monitor, they charge you $20 to take it. State rules can apply.
Check Best Buy’s Trade-In calculator to see if what you think is junk could be used to offset buying some new toys.
The office store is a member of e-Stewards, as well selling more sustainable products. Bring in as many as 10 ink/toner cartridges per month and you get $2 each in Staples Rewards.
The retailer also has a trade-in service where it will inspect devices and give you a quote (in-store or online) and pay you in Staples eCash Cards. Staples will also take any other old office electronics, like computers, monitors, printers, batteries (including rechargables), and more—there’s a limit of six per day. Staples does not take TVs or big copiers or appliances. If you have a business with over 20 employees, Staples Advantage can be used to get free mail-back or pickup of tech needing a recycle.
At Office Depot, you can buy a Tech Recycling Service Box. Put as much electronic junk in one of these boxes as you want, as long as it will close. Bring the box back to the store unsealed and drop it off for inspection. Office Depot will ship it off to waste management partners to do the rest. It promises to break the devices down to components of glass, plastic, copper, and aluminum to reuse.
The boxes come in different sizes and costs: small is $5, medium is $10, and large is $15. Check out the FAQ PDF of items it accepts and does not (which includes such obvious items as devices covered in or leaking liquid. And anything radioactive). The store also offers a variety of boxes for recycling lamps and bulbs—such as long fluorescent tubes.
Mobile phones, PDAs, batteries, and ink/toner cartridges can be dropped off for free with any sales associate, however. It appears that OfficeDepot is limiting its ink and toner cartridge recycling to schools and offices now. .
E-Cycle, also e-Stewards certified, will buy mobile devices from individuals or organizations. Go to its site, select the carrier for your device, as well as manufacturer and model, and it’ll generate a quote. It’ll even take broken devices. You simply mail it in a pre-paid box E-Cycle provides, and then payment shows up in the mail or your PayPal account. Organizations can also send in items on a regular basis and get inventory reports on what gets recycled.
This nonprofit program specifically collects and safely disposes of rechargeable batteries (plus cell phones). Just enter your ZIP code to display retailers that have a Call2Recycle drop-off location.
Partners include Staples, Lowe’s, Home Depot, RadioShack, Verizon, and Apple Stores, to name a few. It also covers rechargeable batteries on your power tools and flashlights—none of them are doing us any favors in a landfill. Plus, it’s free. Precious metals are recovered from the dead batteries and turned into useful stuff. For example, the kitchen flatware you eat with may once have been powering your drill or phone. Plus, all the recycling stays in North America.
Recycle with PC Makers, Mobile Carriers
It never hurts to goose a company into caring. That’s why there are programs like the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge. Best Buy and Staples are participants, as are vendors like Dell, LG, Samsung, and Sony. There’s also an EPA page on basic information for consumer recycling, with one specific to electronics donations and recycling.
Most vendors take their own stuff. Each has their own recycling/return program in place, some working with services like e-Stewards, some not. You can find them for HP, Dell, Apple, Samsung, and Asus, to name just a few.
All four major mobile phone service providers in the US will take cell phones back, either to dispose of safely or for recycling. Better yet, many get refurbished for special use as 911 emergency phones for those in need, such as abuse victims or active duty military soldiers. Just remember to erase the data from your phone before you drop it off, and take out the phone’s SIM card, too.
AT&T Reuse & Recycle
Take any phone, plus batteries and accessories, and drop it at the nearest AT&T store. But first, see if AT&T will let you trade it in toward credit on your next purchase. Get an appraisal of your device online—and that includes not just phones, but also tablets and feature phones from other carriers.
Sprint Good Works
Sprint offers to buy back some phones from existing customers and provides credit toward a new one. Note that in 2013, Sprint broke the Guinness World Record for most cell phones recycled in a single week.
T-Mobile’s Handset Recycling Program
Naturally, T-Mobile has a trade-in program; get an estimate online anytime. It will also take any carrier’s phone/tablet and accessories for recycling—it’s always a good idea to donate the charger— in store.
HopeLine from Verizon
Verizon wants to keep your business like all the rest, so it offers a trade-in program. But its HopeLine project is a little different, as it puts recycled phones in the hands of victims of domestic violence. Anyone can drop phones, batteries, and accessories at the Verizon Wireless stores around the country; or get a pre-paid mailing label and put it in the post.
If you’d rather not deal with the carriers, there’s no lack of third-party services accepting old phones and more for trade in. Try Amazon, Gazelle, uSell, or Flipsy; or use a service like Compare and Recycle to find the site that will pay you the most for your old phone, tablet, or laptop.