Discard with Care: How to Part Ways with Your Old Electronics

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Over the past year and a half, you’ve probably depended on your electronic devices like nothing else, using them to stay in touch with family, friends, and coworkers. As the latest tech gadgets come onto the scene, just how should you properly dispose of old electronics?

Over the past year and a half, you’ve probably depended on your electronic devices like nothing else, having used them constantly to stay in touch with family, friends, and coworkers. As the latest tech gadgets come onto the scene, however, it might be time to start thinking about saying goodbye to some of those gently used but not so useful gadgets. While the most convenient way would be to just put your old gadgets out with the rest of the garbage, it’s definitely not the most environmentally responsible way.

According to The Washington Post, “Computer monitors, smartphones, TV sets, and video game systems contain a mix of hazardous chemicals that must be handled properly when you dispose of them. Only 15 percent of the 6.9 million metric tons of e-waste produced in the United States in 2019 was collected for proper recycling, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor. The rest was dumped into landfills or shipped overseas for dismantling by underpaid workers, many of them children, who toil in dangerous conditions.” Hopefully that’s enough to convince you that recycling is the way to go.

The first step in the recycling process is: protect your privacy. Here are some recommended steps for your cell phone from the The Washington Post:

“For Android phones, make sure the date is encrypted, perform a factory reset, remove the SIM card, then overwrite the data with an app such as Shreddit – Data Eraser (free) or AVG Cleaner (free or subscription). For iPhones, remove the SIM card and destroy any stored data using the ‘erase all contents’ setting. The SIM card is either in a side panel or behind the removable battery, depending on the model.”

Plenty of nonprofit organizations and local communities offer recycling programs. One group, Call2Recyle, offers drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries and cell phones all over the United States. To find a location, just enter your ZIP Code at Call2Recycle.org. Seems easy enough, but definitely consider hanging onto your old flip phone as a conversation piece.

Now to old laptops and tablets – the same issues about putting privacy first apply here as well. Consumer Reports has an easy-to-follow guide detailing how to wipe a computer clean from personal data.

For those devices that still work, you can check out World Computer Exchange, an organization whose mission is to diminish the digital divide in developing countries and promote the reuse of electronics. You can also reach out to local non-profits that work with students in need, older people, and libraries. As an added perk, your donation may be eligible for a tax break.

But what to do with the stuff that doesn’t work or is so outdated it would be of little to no value?

Most big tech companies, including Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft, and giant retailers, like Best Buy, have recycling programs. Some, like Best Buy, offer trade-ins for a store gift card for devices that still have some value or recycling for those that don’t. The United States Environmental Protection Agency offers a handy guide to recycling electronics, including a list of the major manufacturers and links to their programs as well as links to additional recycling and donation resources, like Earth911 and Greener Gadgets. Your town may even have its own e-waste recycling program, so that’s certainly something to look into.

Now comes the really hard part – where on earth did you stash all those old electronics?