How to Recycle Old Electronics
We love our devices—our TVs, laptops, tablets, and perhaps most of all, our mobile phones, those pocket-sized miracles of computing power. In fact, Gartner, a tech research company, estimates that more than 1.5 billion cell phones will ship in 2021. That’s around 1 for every 5 people alive.
But unless they’re traded in for a new device, each of those gadgets eventually reaches the end of its useful life and becomes electronic waste. And that’s a problem. A United Nations study reported that 53.6 million tons of e-waste was discarded in 2019, and only 17.4 percent of it was disposed of properly.
On Earth Day (April 22)—and every other day—consumers can do something to reduce their e-waste footprint, though. Many of the materials used in making these products can be recovered and reused, including plastics, glass, metal, and aluminum. Apple, for example, says its 13-inch MacBook Air with Retina display contains over 40 percent recycled content (PDF).
But electronics can also contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which must be disposed of carefully. So far, 25 states have passed laws requiring people to recycle old electronics. But no matter where you live, there are safe methods for disposal.
First, make sure to completely erase all personal information. It usually isn’t as simple as deleting files. Here’s how to get your personal data off a laptop, for example. Once that’s done, here are your options.
Plenty of nonprofit organizations and local communities offer options to help you recycle old electronics. One group, Call2Recycle, offers drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries and cell phones all over the U.S. To find a location, just enter your ZIP code at Call2Recycle.org.
Access may be limited due to concerns about COVID-19, so before leaving home, be sure to contact the drop-off location to confirm it’s open and accepting recyclables.
You can also look for local options by entering your ZIP code and the product you want to recycle at the Computer Technology Association’s Recycle Locator or Earth911’s extensive recycling database. Earth911 offers assistance by phone at 800-CLEANUP, too.
For more options, or to learn how e-waste gets recycled, consult Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, which lists facilities certified for electronic recycling.
If your used gadget still works—or, in many cases, even if it doesn’t—there’s probably a charity or nonprofit out there that would be happy to take it off your hands. You can start by checking local organizations for older people and recreation centers. Make sure to get a receipt so that you can deduct your donation on next year’s tax return. Here are a few other programs that can help you get your old devices to people who need them.
- Dell Reconnect is a partnership with Goodwill that accepts any brand of computer as well as “just about anything that can be connected to a computer,” according to the website. You can drop off used devices at participating Goodwill locations around the country.
- The World Computer Exchange is on a mission to diminish the digital divide in developing countries and to promote the reuse of and proper recycling of electronics. It provides used computers, peripherals, and many other types of gadgets to communities around the world.
- eBay for Charity lets you sell your used devices (or anything else, actually) and donate part or all of the proceeds to a charity of your choosing.
Many electronics manufacturers and retailers offer robust recycling programs. A chart at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website lets you search programs by product or company. The following are just a few of the many programs that allow consumers to recycle old electronics. Check your brand’s or retailer’s company website for details on its program.
- Amazon offers gift cards for just about any kind of electronics device, as well as music CDs and video games. Some items may be eligible for limited time, promotional credit toward a new qualifying Amazon device.
- Apple’s GiveBack program offers up to $1,530 in gift cards or in-store credit for qualifying products. The company will also accept and recycle any product that doesn’t qualify.
- Best Buy offers recycling options for a wide range of electronics, no matter where you bought them.
- Office Depot and Staples offer rewards program members store credit of $2 per printer cartridge (with some restrictions) for up to 10 or 20 cartridges per month, respectively. Most printer manufacturers, including HP, Epson, and Canon, also have their own recycling programs.
- Sprint’s Buyback program offers account credits for mobile phones from any carrier. For specific details on other phone programs, check the manufacturer’s website.
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We love our planet, right? Then let’s stop trashing it. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports reveals the five items you should always recycle rather than toss into the trash bin.
Electronics recyclers from King County’s Take it Back Network
Electronics recyclers from King County’s Take it Back Network – King County
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Take it Back Network
Take it Back Network recyclers accept a variety of electronic equipment such as computers, monitors, printers, TVs, cell phones, PDAs, fax machines, audio video and camera equipment (including DVD and VCR players), household electronics and rechargeable batteries.
Residents can recycle their computers, monitors, laptops and TVs for FREE at authorized E-Cycle Washington collection sites. Visit www.ecyclewashington.org external link to find a collection site near you. Many of the Take it Back Network members are participating in E-Cycle Washington and will accept computers, monitors, laptops and TVs for free. They will also continue to accept electronic products not included in the E-Cycle Washington program for a fee – such as printers, mice, keyboards, fax machines, scanners, batteries, etc.
logo designates authorized E-Cycle Washington collectors.
Download the electronics recycling brochureDownload PDF 300 K
Be sure to read the vendor descriptions and call first to verify that they will accept your equipment. Some vendors accept items by appointment only.
Most Take it Back organizations charge a fee to cover the cost of labor to take apart the equipment and to transport the materials to a processing facility. Read the detailed description of their services and the fees by clicking on the name of the vendor. The fees change frequently so call first to verify the cost of the recycling service.
Environmentally sound recycling
The organizations listed in the local Take it Back Network have agreed to recycle the materials in an environmentally sound manner, either domestically, within nations that belong to the European Union (EU) or within countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) external link . Learn more about the membership requirements to join the Take it Back Network.
Other recycling companies
For a list of electronics recyclers that are not in the Take it Back Network, go to the What Do I Do With…? website and select “Electronic Equipment” from the drop-down menu.
Note that the businesses and organizations that are not Take it Back Network members have not agreed to the Take it Back Network membership requirements and may export their equipment to countries that have less stringent environmental regulations. Before you pay a fee to have your materials processed, be sure to ask the recycler for documentation about where and how the materials are recycled to ensure the materials are being handled properly.
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- Last Updated January 29, 2018
Why only 10-20 percent of e-waste is recycled
900 02 Murmansk region
Aleksey Mikhailov (Murmansk Region)
By the end of 2022, the situation on the electronic equipment recycling market in Russia has changed significantly: citizens are trying to disassemble broken devices and sell electronic components removed from them. According to the association “SKO Electronics – Recycling”, over the past six months, about 20 percent of devices began to come for recycling already without electronic boards. This suggests that the population has become more active in selling faulty electronics through ads, and some enterprises are reusing electronic components due to a shortage of foreign components. At the same time, the sanctions significantly squeezed this market – most of the electronic components assembled by buyers were sold for processing to Europe and China. In this situation, there was an urgent need to expand the processing of end-of-life electronics in Russia.
Waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing share of municipal solid waste. According to the regional monitoring of e-waste for 2021, prepared by experts from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the amount of e-waste generated in Russia and the CIS increased from 1.7 million tons (about six kilograms per capita) in 2010 to 2. 5 million tons (8.7 kilograms per capita) in 2019. Only 10-20 percent of this volume is recycled, the rest goes to landfills, causing great harm to the environment. Although WEEE makes up only five to seven percent of all MSW, it accounts for 70 percent of all toxic substances in municipal solid waste. Up to 70 percent of all e-waste is generated by the public.
At least 60-70 percent of the electronic scrap collection business remains shady, says Alexandra Dyatkova, marketing director for the Uberi ecotaxi. Most of this waste is handed over to “gray” collectors, who take faulty equipment somewhere to garages or industrial zones, where the most valuable components are manually extracted from it. Not a single region has established a centralized collection of WEEE, this is done only by individual enterprises, many of which operate illegally. In particular, in the Republic of Komi, the volumes of electronic waste are insufficient to create a centralized system for their processing and disposal, said Alexandras Medvedevas, chairman of the committee of the Republican Chamber of Commerce and Industry on ecology, environmental management and the treatment of solid municipal and industrial waste. The same situation is in the Murmansk region.
– We do not separate them from the incoming volume of waste, – says Vitaly Izmailov, deputy director of the Murmansk branch of Citimatic JSC, which is a municipal waste management operator. – What comes to us goes like scrap metal. Ideally, enterprises should hand over non-ferrous metals, microcircuits and other similar waste to special institutions, which then should deal with their disposal. But in reality, this work is not established. I myself have come across this: at one time I worked as a computer science teacher at school, and recycling failed computers has always been a huge problem. Electronic scrap is accepted only by small private traders who disassemble it for spare parts.
The overwhelming majority of the population in the regions has not yet realized that it is impossible to dispose of hazardous waste in this way, notes Alexandra Dyatkova. As a rule, such “collectors” do not have a license for such activities. In addition, they do not care at all about protecting nature from pollution. Containers with freon from refrigerators, for example, at best end up on a container site for a recycler for the treatment of MSW, and at worst – to illegal dumps. In contrast, responsible companies take waste to recycling plants, where there is special equipment that allows you to pump out hazardous liquids, recycle plastic, wires, printed circuit boards, metal boxes, and so on. They work with a number of plants that allow them to recycle and recycle an average of 88 percent of the waste they receive.
– Before handing over e-waste to private collectors, you need to ask where they will then be sent, – adds the expert. – Only such handling of electronic waste can be called responsible.
Establishment of WEEE processing facilities is an extremely capital-intensive process, Ecopolis Corporation notes. Today, at the federal level, there are no support measures for e-waste processors. The development and launch of federal, regional and municipal programs for the centralized collection of WEEE from the population will help change the situation. It is also necessary to subsidize interest rates on investment loans for industry companies, to compensate for part of the costs of purchasing equipment and logistics costs associated with the transportation of waste from the place of collection and accumulation to recycling enterprises.
Before handing over e-waste to private collectors, you need to ask where they will be sent
Another problem that needs to be addressed at the state level is that Russian manufacturers are not interested in using secondary resources. For processors, this reduces the market for their products. Although recycled materials are cheaper than primary ones, industrialists need research and technology changes to switch to recycled materials. This can divert a significant part of the resource of small enterprises, so here you can not do without the economic support of the state. And big business needs a clear signal from the authorities that the use of recycled materials is one of the priorities.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta – Economics of the North-West: No. 269(8917)
Articles and news about electronic garbage are not so rarely published on Habré. It is considered (and, in fact, is) one of the most serious problems of our entire civilization. Every year, people throw away several tens of millions of tons of electronic waste – outdated or broken gadgets, such as smartphones, laptops, TVs, etc.
As of 2021, Russia ranked 30th in terms of e-waste in Europe. Then the share of one household from the Russian Federation accounted for 29.4 kg of electronic waste per year. In Norway, about 57 kg of such waste was thrown out per year. It is clear that not all of this is garbage in the usual sense of the word, because electronic waste can and should be recycled, thanks to which you can earn income. Previously, this was understood in China, and now, it seems, they are beginning to think about it in Russia as well. We’ll talk about all this under the cut.
What is there in China?
Electronics repairers know that electronic waste is recycled in China. For example, the most valuable components are soldered from the boards of discarded devices. Then they are sold – at best, they test the components and mark them as used when they are sold. At worst, they simply solder them out and sell them like new, without checks. The Chinese do this both with small SMD components and with GPU, CPU, NAND chips, etc.
According to a number of foreign media reports, small Chinese companies are recycling electronic waste, and extract, for example, SSD chips from old, discarded SSDs or smartphones / tablets. Even companies that do this are known – for example, Phison and Huirong. Here is a photo of the drive, which is mainly assembled from the components of smartphones thrown into a landfill.
In general, this is not bad, provided that the components are tested. But not all small companies have equipment for such a test, and it costs a lot of money. Therefore, here it’s how lucky you are – you can buy an inexpensive SSD that will work for years, or you can buy a drive that will fail in a couple of days or will not initialize at all.
The Chinese also solder smaller chips, down to the smallest SMD components like capacitors, resistors and others like them. All this is well known, with China recycling more and more e-waste every year, which brings good income to many companies.
And what about in Russia?
Not so long ago, “Kommersant” published news, which refers to the growth in the volume of recycled equipment. We are talking about the fact that only the body of the electronic device is scrapped, but the boards, cables and other elements are seized by the owners of the devices for the purpose of sale or reuse. Over the past six months, the volume of equipment that is rented without electronic components has grown by 20%.
At the moment, according to Dmitry Sorokin, the chief ecologist of the recycling company PK Vtoralyuminprodukt LLC, about half of the electronic devices that are handed over for recycling come without electronic components.
According to experts, in the Russian Federation we are no longer talking only about ordinary citizens who seize components from disposable devices and sell them or use them in any way. There are already handicraft industries, as well as entire “cooperatives” for the processing of circuit boards. This is indirectly evidenced by an increase in the number of ads, for example, on Avito. There are a lot of them now, literally thousands.
There are advertisements for the sale of electronic circuit boards, there are advertisements for the purchase. As a rule, those who buy will solder various components and then sell them – wholesale or retail. Moreover, in some cases, such items are sold under the guise of new ones.
But there is another way to dispose of old devices. So, many companies with a large fleet of computer and other equipment have stopped throwing away gadgets. In many cases, these companies disassemble the devices and keep their components for use in other devices – in case the latter fails. And rightly so – after all, it is much easier to use a component from a board, albeit not a working one, than to buy a completely new device.
Not only handicrafts
According to the same experts, the e-waste recycling business in the Russian Federation is gradually developing and expanding. And not only handicraft industries are engaged in this, although, of course, there are many of them. Nationwide companies, including Citilink, are also working in this direction. Over the past six months, several tens of tons of various devices and household appliances have been accepted for recycling.
Similar work is being done by the M.Video-Eldorado network, which over the past six months has accepted about 800 tons of electronic waste for processing. Of course, this is not so much, given the nationwide scale. But still, things are moving, and recycling is gaining momentum.
The network said: “Nearly 5,000 tons of e-waste have been handed over to licensed facilities for recycling since the launch of the program. In just seven months of 2022, buyers of the M.Video and Eldorado networks handed over 800 tons of unnecessary devices for recycling, and in general – about 2,000 tons of electrical waste, including batteries, which exceeded the figure for 2019 by 10 times.”
Problems and prospects of e-waste disposal
The prospects are very interesting – if the recycling of this kind of waste is put on stream, then you can save a lot, this time, plus reduce the shortage of semiconductor components.