Recycling your old electronics—from cell phones to computers to old TVs—is a responsibility, and the larger the item, the larger the responsibility.
There are a lot of materials in our electronics that can be valuable when recycled, and there are also a lot of materials that we don't want to dump back into our environment.
Finding where to recycle old electronics near you is easier than you might think, and understanding why and how these items are recycled will reinforce your commitment to be a responsible steward of our environment.
How to Prepare to Recycle Your Old Electronics
There are three steps to take as you get ready to recycle your devices.
Step 1: Decide How to Recycle Your Devices
The first step is to decide how you want to recycle your old electronic device. Of course, you may just want to get rid of it. But you want to make sure you do it right, not just toss it in the trash. In addition to taking your electronics to an e-cycler, there are a few other options to consider.
- Donations: You can donate a working device so someone else can benefit from your recycling effort. For example, you might donate a working device to a nursing home, veteran's home, or civic organization. The key word is "working." Although some agencies have the tech savvy and repair facilities to fix broken devices, most don't, so donation isn't usually a choice for non-working devices. Most charities that do accept donations of non-working devices are known to your local computer and techy stores. A few phone calls to these might be helpful.
- Trade-ins: If you are interested in upgrading, you might consider the trade-in programs offered by most electronics retailers, such as Apple, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy, etc. A few phone calls will give you a good start.
Step 2: Wipe Clean All Your Personal Data
If your old device, such as a cell phone or computer, is still working, you need to delete any personal data. There are different levels of "erasing data" to think about, and they depend on how and where you plan to recycle the device.
Some companies offer data security guarantees. They guarantee that their recycling process ensures your data is beyond the reach of identity thieves. If this is the method you plan to use, then you have to do nothing more than get it into their hands. If your device no longer works—you can't delete anything—this is also the safest option for protecting your old data.
If your device still works, (or in some cases even if it doesn't), and you want to recycle it through a charitable donation so someone else can use it, then you need to take a few extra steps to ensure your personal data is wiped clean before you donate it.
- Reset the device to original factory settings. This is an option in your device settings menu.
- Reformat the hard drive.
- Use an app or software program that overwrites all your old data, making it unrecoverable to all but the most dedicated hackers.
There are several free programs for that job. This Consumer Reports article gives you all the details: Wiping Clean Personal Data From Your Device. This is especially important if your device is intended for reuse.
Step 3: Find a Recycling Center Near You
- Electronics Stores: If you just want to get rid of the device, then finding a recycling choice near you could be as easy as visiting your local electronics store. Retailers such as Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot/Max, or other local names almost always offer free recycling programs for everything but TVs. Most will also take TVs, but there is usually a disposal charge. For instance, in general situations, Best Buy charges $25 for up to two TVs.
- Community Programs: Another option would be calling your local municipality. Many have on-going programs, or at least have a couple of yearly scheduled free electronics pick-up dates.
- Local Colleges: Also, if you have a nearby university or Community College, check with them. They may have related tech courses that would be glad to take your used devices—working or not.
- Internet Searches: Finally, there is the internet and for-profit recycling centers and companies. You can find many e-cycler listings online; for example, the EPA maintains links to several sites that help you find a certified electronics retailer nearby.
How Are Electronics Actually Recycled?
The basics are that the devices are taken apart and valuable materials (like gold or silver—yes, cell phones and computers contain gold and silver), are separated from typical recycle materials such as plastics and base metals.
Speaking of valuable recycled materials; Apple reported that in 2015 it reclaimed 2200 pounds of gold from recycled devices. That equals about 40 million dollars.
Also separated are the heavy metals, (mostly in the batteries), like nickel, cadmium, and lithium, that are bad for our environment when just tossed in landfills.
Once separated these materials are hammered, shredded, melted, or bundled, and sent off to their respective recycling streams—plastics to plastics, metal to metal, etc.
Now why didn't this fellow talk about all those circuit boards and processors that appear to have just been bulk shredded for their metals and plastics?
The next video explains what he left out.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 ga anderson
Electronics Recycling Comments
ga anderson (author) from Maryland on December 11, 2018:
I agree with you Ken. I don't have a local Office Depot, but your poor experience sounds like ones I have had at our local Staples store - poor management policies lose customers.
Ken Burgess from Florida on December 10, 2018:
Last time we traveled to a Office Depot store with a recycle station to turn in Ipads I believe it was, in return we were supposed to get a redeemable coupon, perhaps a $20 dollar coupon to be used in the store. When we got there they told us they just did away with that program, but they would be happy to take them from us, for a small fee.
Needless to say we did not recycle those items. I would rather keep them stored, and perhaps give them to grand kids, or some charity we come across down the line. But I am not paying to have them recycled, not even a 'small fee'.
ga anderson (author) from Maryland on December 09, 2018:
Well you are in luck Ken. It is only TVs that you have to pay to recycle.
And even with those, it might not take too many calls to find someone that will take them for free.
Ken Burgess from Florida on December 08, 2018:
Well, I don't see it that way, I don't mind donating... but it will be a long time coming before I pay someone to take them off my hands. But I am too environmentally conscious to just throw them in the trash can.
ga anderson (author) from Maryland on December 08, 2018:
You can relax Ken. They aren't really "skinning" you.
Even the most valuable gold-laden processors - old Intel Pentiums -- only have about $2 worth of gold in them. And if you are not using bulk recycling methods, the acids used to get that gold cost more than the gold retrieved.
However, like you, I probably have 4 or 5 old cell phones laying around too.
Ken Burgess from Florida on December 08, 2018:
A great article, loved that last video. Best Buy, Office Depot, they are making a killing charging customers to take their old phones, ipads, etc. and then they can in-bulk sell them for recycling.
I am sitting on literally a dozen or more old Ipads, phones, etc. that I refuse to turn in until some company comes along and starts offering at least a small amount for them. I'll be damned if they are going to make even more money off of them at my expense.