Confused About How to Properly Recycle Electronics? This Is Where to Start

man holding recycling container filled with electronics

How to Properly Recycle ElectronicsGetty Images

“Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links.”

Electronic waste (also called e-waste) is a huge problem. In 2021, Bloomberg reported that an estimated 74 million tons of e-waste a year will be produced worldwide by 2030. Instead of perpetuating this crisis, it’s more important than ever that we become aware of how to recycle electronics.

Although e-waste is a catch-all term for used electronics that are landfilled or improperly discarded, there is also “inherent value of these materials that can be reused, refurbished, or recycled to minimize the actual waste,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Meaning, for every old tech gadget that goes in the garbage, heavy metals and chemical components from those devices (and their batteries) that could be repurposed elsewhere are wasted, threatening human health and the environment by potentially leaching into the soil and water.

It’s up to each of us to repurpose, responsibly recycle, or safely dispose of our old electronics. If correctly processed, the metals and materials that comprise these gadgets can be reintegrated into new products, even making their way into innovative new uses like clothing insulation.

Because electronics have to be recycled in a specific way (i.e., not thrown into your recycling bin with your papers, plastics, and metal cans), this process can seem daunting if you’re not aware of your state regulations. However, once you know how to recycle electronics or where you can drop them off for proper disposal, it’s easier to repeat this moving forward.

Read on to learn more about how to recycle electronics, so your old smartphones, laptops, and kitchen gadgets can be helpful — not hurtful — to the environment.

Find a New Home for Your Old Tech

The first step to understanding how to recycle electronics is to assess all of the stuff that you want to get rid of. If your old electronics are still in working condition, the best and eco-friendliest option is to give the item a second life by donating it. (If it doesn’t work, more on that later.)

For example, Free Geek, based in Portland, Oregon, is a nonprofit organization that accepts various kinds of unwanted electronics, refurbishes them, and finds them new homes around the local community. Students, young adults, and others who can’t afford or don’t have access to updated technology often receive low- or no-cost gear from this organization. You may be able to find a similar organization in your area by searching online.

Another option is to try to donate your working gadget or appliance to a nationwide organization like Goodwill. However, it’s critical to know which items they will and won’t accept to reduce the strain on the organization to dispose of it.

Know All Your Recycling Options

If your unwanted electronics and tech are broken, worn out, or drained of their battery power, your next option is seek out how best to recycle them.

Currently, only 25 states (and the District of Columbia) have e-waste laws, and if your state is one of them, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them and check whether your state sponsors safe electronics disposal events. The Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC) alsoo provides an interactive map that lets you see at a glance all of the specific state laws around electronics recycling.

In addition, you can check out these organizations that’ll either take your items or direct you to a responsible disposal site near you:

  • Call2Recycle: If you have batteries to get rid of, this is where to go. Call2Recycle is a national organization with a comprehensive national battery recycling program. Through their site, you can easily find a nearby location that will take most kinds of batteries. There are also mail-in options for those unable to get to a drop-off location.

  • Ridwell: This growing curbside service takes batteries, light bulbs, and a number of other hard-to-recycle products right from a box at your front door for a monthly subscription fee.

Use Caution When Recycling Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries, which can be both removable or embedded into electronics, are frequently in the news for causing home fires. This is because any impact or damage to these devices can cause a reaction called thermal runaway in which they overheat and combust. Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t always make it easy for consumers to dispose of these types of batteries and devices properly.

“With so many different types of batteries powering nearly every manner of device, it’s unreasonable to expect consumers to be battery sorters,” says Call2Recycle VP of Operations Eric Frederickson. “For example, lithium AAs and alkaline AAs look very similar — shape, size, etc. — but one legally can go in the garbage, and the other, if it goes into the garbage, could potentially cause a fire and put people and property at risk. Also, if consumers attempt to remove lithium-ion batteries from devices that they’re embedded in, they can damage the batteries and make them more dangerous than if they were left in the device.”

interior of a phone with lithium ion battery

Interior of a phone’s lithium-ion battery.Getty Images

For those who have undamaged lithium-ion batteries that they’re preparing to recycle, know that it’s unsafe to drop them off in a pile or leave them unmarked for your disposal site to deal with. Frederickson encourages taking these steps to help minimize risks:

  • Option A: Bag each battery in its own clear plastic bag before placing it in a storage container.

  • Option B: Tape the positive terminal with clear packing tape, nonconductive electrical tape or duct tape, keeping labels visible.

Check Out Stores That Accept Old Electronics

The good news is, there are several national retailers that’ll take your old electronics and batteries off your hands to recycle them for you. The items that a specific store accepts may vary, so it’s best to call ahead before heading to your local retailer.

The following stores have electronics recycling and trade-in programs:

Amazon: The online megastore has electronics recycling and trade-in options available and also partners with Call2Recycle for battery recycling.

Apple: The brand’s trade-in/recycling program is very straightforward. Most of the process can be done online, and you may not even need to visit a store. (Microsoft has similar options for its devices.)

Batteries Plus: They will take several hard-to-recycle products, such as specific batteries and lights — all you have to do is drop them off.

Best Buy: The electronics retailer accepts a wide range of products, including certain TVs, curling irons, and more. They can be strict about what they accept, so check with your local retailer about the items you want to donate.

Lowe’s: They will take certain batteries and lights, but it varies by store.

Staples: The office-supplies store will accept many of the electronics they carry, including hard drives, paper shredders, and desktop computers. Just note that Staples does not accept alkaline batteries.

The Home Depot: Here, you can recycle rechargeable batteries and certain light bulbs. This retailer will also accept certain plastic plant pots.

You Might Also Like

Related posts