How to properly dispose of electronic waste

How to properly dispose of electronic waste

When you find yourself with a pile of e-waste that you want to get out of your home, it can be difficult to know how to dispose of it properly. Throwing it in the trash is not only harmful to the environment, it can also be against the law depending on what you need to dispose of. However, there are a dizzying array of options for safely and responsibly disposing of old technology. If your technology is still in good working order, you may even be able to get paid to part with it.

Prepare your old technology for recycling or donation

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Before donating or recycling old technology, be sure to package it securely to avoid any mishaps.

Before we can talk about where to dispose of old technology, we need to explain how to prepare your technology for proper disposal. Tech may contain sensitive data, such as your social security number or banking login information. To protect your data, remove or erase all storage drives on the device before disposing of it. (For specific instructions on how to do this with a laptop, see this.)

If you have a bad battery that you need to dispose of, you will want to take a few precautions for your safety and for the safety of the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends taping the conductive ends of batteries with non-conductive tape (such as electrical tape) and placing disposable batteries in a garbage can or plastic container. This reduces the risk of fire.

For lithium-ion batteries, do NOT puncture or damage them as this is a serious fire hazard. If you already have a damaged lithium-ion battery, take it to the nearest electronic waste disposal site or technical repair shop as soon as possible.

A person slips a laptop into a laptop sleeve

Credit: Revised/Jackson Ruckar

If you’ve outgrown your current tech gear, consider donating it to a charitable cause.

If you want to get rid of technology that is still in good condition, you should consider donating it. Many organizations around the world bring used technology to those in need, and your donation may be tax deductible. The National Christina Foundation, the World Computer Exchange, and Computers with Causes are three programs that provide used technology to disadvantaged and underserved populations in the United States.

If you want to get more involved in your community, contact your local school district, library, city council, or other public services to see if they have programs to redistribute used technology to those who need it. For example, Massachusetts provides funding directly to cities and towns to implement reuse and repair programs. If you don’t have those options or need a quick and easy way to drop in and go, you can also donate your old tech to thrift stores like Goodwill.

Take advantage of trade-in and buy-back programs

Waste electrical and electronic equipment

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Many manufacturers have buy-back or trade-in programs that include larger appliances like ranges and refrigerators.

In order to reduce e-waste and make your life easier, many tech companies will take or buy your used tech. If you recently bought a cell phone, for example, the manufacturer of your new phone may have offered you money for your old phone.

Apple, Samsung, Staples and Best Buy all have tech buyback programs, as do many other manufacturers and retailers.

The Electronic Takeback Coalition (ETC) has a list of takeback programs that provides more details on the specifics of the programs and their impact on sustainability. To find out which programs maximize their sustainability, keep an eye out for e-Steward certified programs, which pledge not to export e-waste to developing countries (a common practice that shifts the burden of waste treatment and its by-products on already vulnerable populations). For example, Staples runs an e-Steward certified take-back program if you have one nearby.

Staples and Best Buy have take-back programs for a slew of tech, from tablets to vacuum cleaners, either for free or at a modest discount. Often, you can just walk straight to a store and ask about their take-back programs for most small tech like laptops and cell phones – no need to schedule a deposit. Many manufacturers also offer direct take-back and buy-back programs through mail-out services or retail partnerships.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of different manufacturers and companies that will take your technology, and you can sort by item category. This list is especially useful if you want to know which vendors offer drop-off and pick-up options for less common equipment, such as office copiers.

What to do with electronic waste and broken technology

A diagram explaining how to recycle batteries by post

Credit: Call2Recycle

If you don’t have an e-waste collector near you, you can mail your e-waste through groups like Call2Recycle.

Unfortunately, not all technology is repairable, and no matter how environmentally conscious you are, you’ll end up with e-waste that you’ll need to dispose of properly. Common electronic waste includes exhausted single-use batteries, broken monitors and damaged computer equipment.

If you need to dispose of a battery, whether standalone or in-product, you can’t just throw it in your trash or recycling bin (it’s illegal in many states). Many batteries can harm their local environment or become a fire hazard once they reach the end of their life cycle, so proper disposal requires specialist waste management services. The main exception is for single-use alkaline batteries, which can be legally disposed of with your normal trash anywhere in the United States except California. However, we strongly encourage you to take your used alkaline batteries to a trash can or recycling center.

For many people, the easiest option will be to take their e-waste to a retail store that offers a free bin for batteries and small tech. Best Buy, Staples, and Home Depot all have in-store disposal bins for free. Many cities also offer municipal e-waste management services, such as community trash cans or even e-waste collection services for large items like TVs and appliances. For cell phones in particular, many battery recyclers like Call2Recycle will also take the phones for free.

For a specific technology product like a TV, you can check Earth911’s directory for the nearest recycler for that specific product. Meanwhile, Greener Gadgets gives you a comprehensive list of your nearest recyclers for all products.

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