How to Get Rid of Your Old Electronics

by Tara Struyk on 4 April 2013 11 comments

We have an old TV. It's old and huge and heavy and not at all flat-screened. By "old" I mean to say that our TV probably rolled off the assembly line about 10 years ago, a fact that, unless you're a teenager, will probably make you feel very old yourself. This TV is not high-tech or beautiful, but it does work, so we keep it around.

As it turns out, that's increasingly rare.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, American consumers consistently spend more than $1,000 per year on household electronics like televisions, computers, and smartphones. That's a lot of money, but assuming we all have the money to pay for these gadgets, what's more distressing is what happens to the older, less-advanced devices they aim to replace.

To be blunt, most of these discarded gadgets end up in landfills, says the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, it is estimated that Americans throw out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers every day, making electronic waste, or "e-waste," one of the fastest growing components of landfill waste. And while that huge, old computer monitor may seem innocent enough, it's packed with lead and other toxic chemicals, which isn't just bad for the environment, it's bad for us too.

So what can you do with your electronics when they're no longer of use? Here are a few environmentally friendly options. (See also: 25 Things to Throw Out Today)

Safety First

First things first — whether you're offloading an old cell phone to a recycling service or selling a laptop to a friend, you need to wipe any and all electronic devices that store data.

When it comes to your cell phone, you also need to ensure that your account with your service provider has been terminated. If you aren't sure how to wipe an electronic device (hint: it involves more than just deleting your files), you may want to consult a professional (or tech-savvy friend) for advice. Leaving personal data on a device could make your private life more public than you'd like — and put you at risk for identity theft.

Sell It

If your old devices still work, you could try selling them on eBay, Craigslist, or through a local classified ad. There are also several services that are willing to pay cash for certain gadgets. Nextworth, Gazelle and ReCellular all offer such programs. Some will only buy devices that work, others will buy things that are broken.

There are many such services out there, so take some time to research whether there's anyone who'll pay for what you're trying to offload. If you can't find any takers for a device that still has some life left in it, you could try to find a new home for it on Freecycle.

Trade It In

Many electronics retailers and manufacturers are now offering trade-in programs for retired electronics. Turn in your old PC, for example, and you'll get a gift card or credit for what the company deems your item to be worth. After all, even broken electronics often contain valuable materials that companies can recycle. BestBuy, Target, RadioShack, Apple, and Sony, among other retailers, all offer this type of service. If you're looking to replace a device, this might be an option worth considering.

Donate It

There are many charities, schools, and community centers that will happily accept working computers, printers, and other electronic devices. Others will take electronic devices in any condition to refurbish or recycle.

You can start by looking locally, but there are also a number of national organizations to consider. These include Goodwill, Salvation Army, Recycling for Charities, and Komputers 4 Kids. They all accept donations, and may even provide a tax receipt! ThinkRecycle allows organizations to run drives for electronics and raise money for a cause, all while helping to remove a few more devices from the waste stream.

Recycle It

For devices that no longer work or that are undesirable (like my old TV, when it finally meets its re-maker), recycling may be the only option. The best place to find out where to recycle your old electronics is the Environmental Protection Agency, which offers a great search tool for finding manufacturers and retailers that will take old stuff. Many do.

The other option is to connect with a recycling program like Call2Recycle, Earth911, ECycling Center, Electronic Industries Alliance and GreenerGadgets.

According to the EPA, there's no federal mandate to recycle e-waste. There have been numerous attempts to develop a federal law to deal with the issue; unfortunately, sometimes waiting for new legislation is like watching grass grow...only slower.

If you're concerned about keeping electronic waste out of landfills, you're the one who'll have to take the initiative to ensure it's properly disposed of. I know I'll be looking for some way to recycle my old TV in the next few years. Fortunately, that appears to be getting easier all the time. If only I could say the same for carrying the darn thing down the stairs.

How have you responsibly retired your old electronics?

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Guest's picture
Michael

We recently bought a new flat screen TV for our family room. The 32" tube TV had provided unwavering service for 16 years, but it was simply time to move on (and the deal we got was excellent). I unhooked it, put it in the car, and drove it over the Salvation Army thrift shop. They said it would likely sell within a day or two and would bring in some money for them. Better than throwing out a perfectly functional TV.

Guest's picture

Actually, most charities will NOT take computers of any sort. Most won't take non-flat screen TVs, either.

Freecycle is your first bet in getting rid of anything that's working that you can't sell through Craigslist. If you still have no takers (CRT monitors, I'm looking at you!), then recycling it if you can or driving it to hazardous waste disposal are really your only choices.

Tara Struyk's picture

The charities I mentioned in the article all included information on their websites about accepting computers or other electronics. There may be some pretty specific caveats in terms of what they will accept. It would be worth phoning around to find out specifics in terms of the charity organizations in your area.

Guest's picture

After noticing this article, I realized that I've always usually donated my old electronics to family. Occasionally I'll sell them when they don't have a need for them.

Reading your stats on how many electronic devices end up in landfills is pretty saddening. We can get so much more use out of the materials found in computers, cell phones, etc. if we just pay attention and recycle properly.

Thanks for the article!

Tara Struyk's picture

I agree. I is sad how much of this stuff just gets thrown away. I think up until quite recently, though, there weren't as many options, especially for things that don't work. Hopefully, we'll see some improvement as more recycling programs emerge.

Guest's picture

I recently got rid of an old desktop and television and decided to recycle them, all of the charities and homes I contacted in my area weren't interested in taking them in! The only annoying thing about recycling your old electronics is that the places that take them in usually have odd and limited hours, the plant by my house is only open on Wednesdays for a three hour period once every other week to take donations!

Tara Struyk's picture

I've had the same problem where I live. Maybe the recycling programs are underfunded. As for the charities, my guess is that they're getting way too much in the way of electronics now. Also, new gadgets are a lot cheaper, which means that even if an old TV works, the discount isn't big enough to tempt most people.

Guest's picture

I typically donate all of my old electronics. Great post and suggestions!

Guest's picture
Guest

One of the biggest points I got from this article is that we all need to think more along the idea of recycling our old electronics. Yes it can be time consuming and yes depending on where you live it may be next to impossible to find an organization to take the old electronics but think of recycling it to someone you know who could use and appreciate it. I had an old 32 inch tv that I gave to an older couple whose previous tv gave out. The tv I gave them was larger than what they had and to them it was new and huge. Their old tv went to one of their friends who likes to tinker with stuff, so everyone was happy. We need to do more to keep things out of landfills and we need companies (cell phones especially) to take a more active part in recycling their old products.

Guest's picture
Guest

One could desolder the PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) in order to salvage the individual components. They could then be applied to future DIY projects or trade/resell to the discerning techie.

Guest's picture

It is always great to donate old electronic items to schools or the Salvation Army. There are many people who could use the electronics instead of throwing them away.