8 Fresh Ways to Recycle Electronics

Little more than five years ago, very few people thought to recycle electronics. As a wise man once said in a much different era, the times, they are a changin'.

Welcome to the world of "e-waste," a term environmental groups apply to the mounds of old gadgets people and businesses discard when newer, shinier models arrive. Case in point: American's own roughly 24 electronic products per household. Now consider what chunk of this year's Christmas haul went to replacing outdated gizmos.

Rather than condemn such items to a landfill, consider them as clothing destined for a thrift store. Just as you wouldn't throw away decent jeans, there are ways to reuse or recycle all things wired, from 10-year-old monitors and terminals to cell phone batteries and DVD players.

Given the breakneck pace at which technology is reinvented, multiple organizations across the country have taken it upon themselves to handle the e-waste problem. They provide the average consumer with multiple ways to recycle electronics sustainably, responsibly and, occasionally, at a profit. The following are eight avenues to siphon e-waste so it doesn't go unused, like your archaic VHS player. Although, come to think of it, they'll take that hunk of junk, too.

1. e-Stewards
The e-Stewards initiative is leading the global charge to foster e-waste awareness and responsible electronics recycling programs. Started by the Seattle-based non-profit Basal Action Network, it borrows the fair trade mentality of global agriculture and applies it to hazardous materials. Consumer electronics are often exported to developing countries for incineration, despite being chock-full of mercury, lead and arsenic. Simply tossing your hard drive into the garbage is on par with dumping toxic waste, environmentally speaking.

Along with providing assistance to business owners and educational materials to the masses, e-Stewards also awards certifications to recycling programs that meet a slew of strict standards. As of now, only six centers worldwide are certified, but nearly 70 more in the U.S., Canada and Europe are in the process of being approved. Check the recycling map for locations in or near your state. Most are found east of the Mississippi River or along the West Coast. As most or independent facilities, any charges vary by location. Call beforehand.

2. Local Recycle Centers
The Environmental Protection Agency put together a comprehensive list of electronics recycling programs in all 50 states. The links lead directly to state-funded pages where you'll find info on various sustainable programs. Most give the basics, such as where to find free programs, where to take computer-related items, and how you can be reimbursed for donations. A good number also provide instructions for small businesses looking for tax write-offs and those with tons of electronics gear to unload.

recycle sign

3. Retailer Programs
To be sure your tech envy isn't irresponsible, a sizable chunk of retailers make it easy to recycle and buy electronics in nearly the same breath. Offers vary from store to store, but many give some type of rebate, reward or service for thinking of them.

  • Best Buy's electronics recycling program is one of the most vaunted, and for good reason. No matter where it was purchased, Best Buy takes just about any unwanted goods you can muster, including TVs, computer peripherals, DVD players and more. Best Buy doesn't charge for most products. The electronics retailer does charge a $10 fee for monitors and TVs under 32 inches but reciprocates with an equivalent gift card. Best Buy also offers kiosks for recycling batteries, ink cartridges and cell phones. It's as simple as walking in and dropping them off.
  • eBay has always been a trailblazing online entity and its Rethink Initiative bolsters that reputation further. The eBay program puts owners of old and idle electronics in contact with potential new users through auctions, donations and trade-ins. The trade-in option is stellar, with an immediate appraisal, payment and free home pickup or shipping. The whole thing is backed by some heavy hitters, including Intel, Apple and Dell, all of which offer possible rewards to recycling stalwarts (see number four for a select few.)
  • Office Depot sells boxes of various sizes through a simple program known as Tech Recycling: Cram as many electronics as possible in the box, leave it unsealed and drop it off at any Office Depot store. It seems counter-intuitive to pay for recycling, but the most expensive box tops out at a reasonable $15. Given the microscopic size of modern tech, even the smallest box can hold quite a few iPods, cameras and phones.
  • Cell phone companies often provide drop-boxes for cell phones, cords and chargers at their corporate-owned locations. Contrary to popular belief, however, outfits like Verizon and Sprint accept items without bias, taking in models from any provider. Nearly all companies will refurbish or recycle the goods, no matter they're condition, but hardly any offer cash-back. Call your cell phone shop beforehand to check on additional restrictions.

cell phones

4. Manufacturer Programs
Along with retailers and merchants, major manufacturers get in on the recycling act with custom programs and services. Unlike retailers, however, most only recycle through the mail. To encourage leery consumers, the process is often easy and, in many cases, profitable.

  • Sony Style provides pre-paid shipping labels through its website. Slap the printable form on an appropriate box, stuff it with any model or make of phone and send it back to be responsibly recycled. The mobile branch of the Sony electronics empire also works with businesses and others to arrange cell phone recycling events, whether as a fundraising program or a feel-good community project. Contact Steve Coston at steve.coston@sonyericsson.com for more details.
  • HP offers an electronics recycling program with trade-in and recycle options for consumers around the globe. Both accept most products made by the computer giant, including hardware, printing supplies and large-format printers. Visit the HP site and select the appropriate option for further directions. To use the trade-in program, visit the program portal, get a free quote on any unwanted electronics, buy something new from HP, ship the old junk off, and get your quoted price back in cash.
  • Apple runs an independent recycling program with sweet rewards, including gift card credit for machines with monetary value, whether Mac or PC. If the thing is 12 years old and basically useless, Steve Jobs will personally recycle it for free. Bonafide Apple stores are few and far between, but if one is nearby, drop by and trade in any generation iPhone or iPod for 10-percent off a new one. Visit the Apple online store for the skinny on both options.


5. Non-Profit Donations
It's simple enough to drop your electronics in a donation box or use a trade-in program, but it often lacks a certain warm and fuzzy feeling. A slew of specialized non-profits exist with a variety of goals and targets, yet with one need: Any and all old tech gear. Most take computers, phones and peripherals for free and refurbish them for use in the community.

  • The forward-thinking folks at TechSoup, a depository for all things related to technology and non-profits, regularly update a list of donation projects specifically for consumer electronics. Most outfits are in need of computers and monitors, though some will take whatever you have to offer. Others, like Colorado-based Tech For All, also offer volunteer positions for the computer-savvy to teach courses and rebuild machines. 
  • While most non-profits are highly localized, the national Verizon HopeLine effort takes mailed-in phones from across the country, reworks them, loads on 3,000 pre-paid minutes and distributes them to domestic abuse victims. Since its inaugural year, the program has collected more than 7 million phones and given 90,000 away to victims. Donations through HopeLine aren't tax deductible, but the kickback for an old brick would've been measly anyway. 
  • Most public schools accept computer donations for a small tax write-off, although specifics vary widely from district to district. Speak with a principal or assistant principal at your local school to see if they can help or, at the least, point you in the right direction.

6. Federal Programs
The EPA's eCycling website is an excellent outlet for information and resources, but the federal government doesn't offer any recycle programs on its lonesome. Instead, it opts to partner with private companies and give its seal of approval. Chances are if you notice an EPA endorsement, the program follows strict guidelines to protect the environment and ensure refurbished goods make it to those in need.

7. Waste Management
Waste Management, the premiere garbage guru in the U.S., operates the only national network of electronics recycling centers, with collection programs on both coasts and in between. Waste Management built dedicated sites in Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma to recycle electronics through its Recycle America initiative. The best part about this program: If you're already a Waste Management client, call you local office and arrange pick-up for free or a small fee. Waste Management also maintains the nation-wide network of drop-boxes for Sony and LG products.

8. City Libraries
As with many community-sponsored programs, not every local library offers e-waste recycling. However, a plus behind these city-based initiatives is no upfront cost and donations are tax deductible. Call your local library, recreation center or city hall to see if they have a regular program. If not, they may run annual or occasional recycle drives, primarily for cell phones and computers.

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