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How and Where to Recycle Used Electronics

The pace of technology development means that many electronic items are difficult to reuse after only a few years, so recycling them has become an essential issue. The short shelf life of electronics represents huge losses of reuse potential and creates a toxic waste issue because of the components in many of these products. Electronics can contain toxic materials such as lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. The health of the environment depends on the safe disposal of these components. Thankfully, opportunities for reusing and recycling electronic goods are growing significantly.

Manufacturers and distributors are putting electronics recycling plans into action, joining local businesses that offer electronics recycling. Find an electronics recycler near you through the National Center for Electronics Recycling.

Recycling or reusing cell phones

Because cellphones contain toxic materials such as mercury, it’s important to keep them out of landfills and incinerators. So, don’t throw your old phone in the trash — it may turn out to be someone’s lifeline.

Several organizations reprogram retired cellphones so that people, particularly seniors and victims of domestic abuse, can use them to call 911 free of charge. Other organizations reprogram and sell the phones to raise funds for charity. The following organizations operate such programs:

  • Collective Good allows you to mail your phone, PDA, or pager in to be recycled.

  • Phones 4 Charity donates or recycles your cellphone or similar device.

  • Wirefly offers a trade-in incentive to encourage consumers to recycle wireless devices.

You also can check with your cellphone service provider about a recycling program; many providers collect old phones to reuse parts and to donate to charities.

Recycling computers

The EPA estimates that some 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years, which has the potential for a lot of waste. However, you can donate your still-usable computer to a school or charity. If your computer is too old to be useful, send it to a responsible electronics recycler who breaks down the components for reuse, recycling, and safe disposal.

Computer refurbishers can upgrade or adapt your unwanted computer so that it can be donated to schools, community centers, and even initiatives in developing countries to enable more people to gain access to the benefits of the information age. Earth 911 and TechSoup can help you find a refurbisher near you. You can also take computers to Staples stores for recycling.

Whether you donate your computer for reuse or drop it off for recycling, make sure that you protect the personal information that may be on it. Computer-savvy criminals can access files that you’ve deleted, so use hard drive disk-cleaning software to properly erase your files. Also make sure that you deal with a reputable refurbisher or recycler with its own disk-cleaning procedures in place as well.

Recycling old televisions

The same places that recycle computer monitors in your area likely recycle televisions, too, because their technology is quite similar. If you can’t find a charity or friend who needs your old television, drop it off at your nearest electronics recycling center.

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