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How to Recycle Old Electronics (Cell Phones, Computers, TVs, and more)

It's incredible how many people simply don't recycle old electronics, such as computers, cell phones, televisions, printers, DVD players, and other devices.

Check out these stats on e-waste from the EPA and DoSomething.org:

  • 2.37 MILLION tons of electronics are scrapped each year in the US alone (estimated 20-50 million worldwide).
  • Only about 25% is recycled.
  • Only 8% of cell phones are being recycled.
  • Many cell phone providers are now encouraging upgrades as often as every 6 months!
  • The lead used in electronics contributes up to 70% of our toxic waste.
  • Because of the gold and silver in these electronics, we're dumping an estimated $60 million of precious metal a year!

(I foresee a budding industry of landfill scavengers in our future.)

The truth is recycling these things has never been easier than it is now. Please learn the easy steps to reduce your own impact and share this info with others.

First Things First, Extend Their Lifespan

Learning how to recycle old electronics first starts with PREcycling. Here are some tips:

When you're in the market for electronics, choose computers and cell phones from manufacturers that have a history of creating quality electronics. Do research on the average lifespan of the battery, look at reviews from other users, and do NOT purchase something in the first 6 months of its release unless you trust the brand. Instead, wait until it has a track record so you can be sure you're not contributing to the waste with poorly manufactured items.

Yes, this usually means a high price tag, but when you look at what you spend for cheap stuff you replace every 6-12 months versus quality items that last for years, the savings is actually in your favor.

By the way, when you're researching the best lifespan of a brand, it never hurts to look at the brand's eco-footprint to see where they rank in pollution and toxic manufacturing.

Of course when it comes to electronics and making them last, there is a fast turnover in the amount of time it takes technology to turn obsolete. But if you've purchased a great item that serves your needs you can usually wear it out before actually needing to replace it. On average a cell phone should last you at least 2 years. Computers should last 3-4 years and most other electronics should last 10 or more years.

Also consider repairs and upgrades: Choosing to repair a television versus replace it can save you money and reduce waste (why throw out the whole thing because of a faulty wire?). You can even replace brocken iPhone screens or replace keyboards on laptops for next to nothing. The electronics store will often tell you "it's cheaper to replace it than fix it" because they want to sell a new one. Don't get your repairs done there. Instead shop around for an electrician or service provider that actually repairs, not just upsells. In addition to that considering upgrading the hardware and software to see if that solves your problem as well.

Also consider letting children use them. An old work computer can easily be wiped and turned into something capable of playing games or writing school reports. Old phones can still play games without cell service.

And please don't recycle old electronics, such as computers or cell phones, just because the battery is dead! A new battery in many cases costs $5-25 and is a simple fix requiring a screwdriver and two hands to click the new one into place. If yours isn't so simple, call around and get an idea of how it can be done. Because it CAN be done and usually for much less than replacing the entire computer.

How to Recycle Old Computers

First of all, consider how they can be reused. A local school, YMCA, community center, or church may be able to put them to good use. You might be able to sell them or give them away for free on something like Craigslist. Or some locally-owned computer store may like to refurbish them. Consider these options first.

If it can't be given away or refurbished by someone interested in a good deal, your next step is to find a recycling facility. These are some of the easiest ways to recycle old computers:

  • Look for office supplies stores (almost all OfficeMax, Office Depot, or Staples locations recycle old computers for free)
  • Call your local electronics store (places like Best Buy and Radio Shack will always accept them)
  • Google your manufacturer, such Apple or HP: many will send you a box to mail it in for free or provide you with a local drop-off. Some will even pay you for it!
  • Check out the EPA's search function to find more solutions to recycle old computers

How to Recycle Old Cell Phones

Again, consider how they can be reused by someone else. Someone who might not be able to afford a new cell phone would love your older model. Offering it up for free or cheap online might find a person who can get a few more miles out of it.

If it's no longer functioning or can't be repaired, consider the following ways to recycle old cell phones:

  • Again, ask at your nearby office supply stores. They almost always recycle old cell phones too.
  • Same goes from the electronics store, like Best Buy or Radio Shack. Give them a call.
  • Call your cell phone provider; most already send you a postage-paid envelope with any new phone. If not, request one!
  • Google your manufacturer, such as Samsung or Nokia, and find out what options they offer.
  • Look into places like Gazelle.com, uSell.com, MaxBack.com, etc that purchase your old cell phones.
  • You can even turn it into a fundraiser and help others to recycle old cell phones and electronics too!

How to Recycle Old Electronics (TVs, printers, etc)

You're probably noticing a pattern here, by now. The steps to recycle old electronics are all about the same:

  • First try to give it away to a person or organization who doesn't mind an older model or might be able to refurbish it themselves.
  • Next, contact your nearby office supply stores and electronic stores (some named above) to inquire what they accept.
  • Then contact the manufacturer and ask if they have a buy-back program, list of places that will recycle old electronics, or will accept them directly.
  • Also try independent buy-back companies, like uSell.com and others mentioned above.

What If All This Fails?

What do you do if you seriously can't find a way to recycle old electronics? Here are a few more ideas:

  • Try taking it apart and offering the components up online individually.
  • Get creative! Upcycle it into something else (an old desktop can become a planter; a TV can become a dog bed).
  • Don't give up! Many times we stop searching simply because our first inquiry resulted in no luck. Start a box of old electronics and keep asking around until you find the right place to take them!

What about you? How do you recycle old electronics?

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