How to Get Rid of Your Old Electronics
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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