How to Recycle Your Old or Unused Electronics
As you organize and declutter your home this spring, you may come across some old or unused electronics. Before you toss any unwanted gadgets, though, you may want to consider recycling or donating them.
Recycling or finding new homes for old electronics isn’t just an environmentally conscious option — throwing them in the trash may be illegal in your state, says Consumer Reports. So, what should you do with old electronics? Here are a few options to consider.
Tips for Recycling Electronics
Electronics are composed of metals (some of which are toxic), plastics and glass, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mining and manufacturing these materials uses energy, but recycled electronics can provide an alternative source for these needed natural resources and valuable materials. For example, the EPA states that recycling one million laptops saves the amount of energy equal to the electricity used in 3,500 homes during one year.
Many electronics manufacturers and retailers have set up programs for recycling old, broken technology, notes the EPA. You may also be able to recycle through local nonprofit organizations or a local city or town, says Consumer Reports. Contact your municipality to see if there is a nearby drop-off center or an upcoming electronics recycling event. Through these programs, you may be able to return items like computers, printers and cartridges, phones, TVs and rechargeable batteries at a drop-off location or by mail.
Consider Donating Electronics
Another way to recycle electronics is to pass them on them to someone who can continue to use them. If your electronics are old but still function, donation might be a good disposal option for you. Consumer Reports says many nonprofit groups accept donated electronics — they may use the items, refurbish and resell them to support the charity or recycle unusable ones. Donated electronics can also serve as a much-needed resource for those in need. For example, some organizations collect old cellphones and provide them to abuse victims, emergency service personnel and senior citizens at no cost.
Prepare Items for Recycling or Donation
While it’s great to properly dispose of your electronics or give them new life through another owner, it’s important that you protect any sensitive information you may have stored on the devices. Before you part with that old computer, be sure you wipe the hard drive to help prevent your personal data, including financial information, from ending up in someone else’s hands, says the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. Also be sure you remove the memory and SIM cards from your cellphone and do a factory reset (sometimes called a master reset) before you donate it. The EPA also notes you should remove batteries from electronics, as they may need to be recycled separately from the device.
Recycle Cables, Cords and Chargers
After you’ve decided what do to with your old electronics, it’s also a good time to clean up your cords. If you have a drawer or box full of cables, cords and chargers, sort through it to see which ones you still need and put aside the ones you don’t. (If they belong to a device you’re donating, though, keep them together.) Here are a few eco-friendly options for disposing of all those wires.
Offer Cords to Friends and Family
One of the easiest ways to dispose of some of those wires and cables is to ask if anyone else you know needs them. As The Family Handyman notes, you may have a friend or family member who is still using a device you’ve upgraded — they may be able to use the computer cables you no longer need or would be happy to have an extra phone charger on hand.
Recycle Unneeded or Broken Accessories
Many cords, cables and wires contain metals that can be recycled. According to The Family Handyman, you can likely recycle them at a metal recycling facility. (If they contain copper, you may even be able to sell them for salvage.) Retailers who accept electronics for recycling often also take cords, chargers and wires, says CNET. If you’re bringing items to a recycling center event, ask if cords and cables can be dropped off as well.
Donate to Community Organizations
Those old cords may actually help kids learn about technology. Many schools and nonprofits now offer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs that may be able to use all those wires you’ve collected, says The Family Handyman. Even if the cables seem older to you, they may be great for a class or scouting project. Contact your local schools or youth organizations to see if they can put them to good use.
Organize What You Keep
- Label cords near their base so that you know what device they belong to. You can use a marker, label maker or tape.
- Use a clear box to store cords you don’t use frequently. Bundle and label them before storing the box.
- Use zip ties, eye hooks or cable wraps can help keep cords safely in place and together.
As you start your spring cleaning, don’t forget to add clearing out older electronics and accessories to your list. By recycling or donating those unused items, you can reduce your clutter in an environmentally friendly way that may also benefit someone else.
Originally published on March 19, 2015.