How to Dispose of Electronics: Say No to E-Waste
Take a look at whatever you’re reading this article on.
Consider the many elements (literally) that went into making it. Then have a think about what will happen once it no longer powers on, becomes annoyingly glitchy, or simply gets tossed aside for the latest and greatest model.
It’s difficult to not get caught up in the excitement of new technology. Compared with even just a decade ago, tech has come a long way (anyone else actually remember the not-too-distant days of the Nokia brick?!).
But in all the excitement of what’s new, it’s important to not forget about the old.
That smartphone becomes a stupid waste of resources if it just ends up in a landfill, or causes harm to a child working in the informal recycling sector in a developing country.
E-waste is a massive problem. Fortunately, as you’ll see in this article, there are a few easy-to-implement solutions for how to dispose of electronics responsibly.
Without further ado, let’s plug in, power on, and learn how to better protect our planet and all people.
QUICK LINKS FOR HOW TO DISPOSE OF ELECTRONICS
1. REPAIR ELECTRONICS
How to dispose of broken electronics? Step 1 should be to consider if it really needs to be disposed of in the first place.
It might come as a surprise, but most common problems with modern electronics are easily repairable—and with YouTube videos and DIY diagnostic guides aplenty (like this one), anyone can become an electronics doctor.
If the thought of looking at resistors, transistors, and inductors is as scary as the dreaded “blue screen of death,” electronics repair shops are a great option and chances are, there are several in your area.
If not, keep your eyes (and iPhones) peeled for a mobile electronics repair service coming to your area in the future.
Because e-waste is expected to reach an astonishing annual rate of 110 million tonnes by 2050, “Right to Repair” projects (like London’s Restart Project) are popping up around the globe, instructing people on how to make simple repairs to extend the lives of their electronics.
Instead of typing “how to dispose of electronics near me” in your search bar, consider searching “how to repair electronics near me” to find a pop-up project or other local electronics repair shop.
2. RESELL ELECTRONICS
Thanks to a growing number of online and mobile platforms devoted to the sale of old electronics, selling old gadgets (namely cameras, tablets, smartphones, and laptops) has never been easier.
In fact, if you’re in the U.S., you probably have one of ecoATM’s 4,500 kiosk locations nearby in stores like Kroger and Walmart.
Even if you can’t physically make it to an electronic drop-off, buyback services like Gazelle, Apple Trade-In, Decluttr, BuyBackWorld, and TradeMore are also options.
You can also sell your old electronics yourself through peer-to-peer platforms like Amazon, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Letgo, OfferUp, and Gumtree (AU).
How does the process of selling old electronics work?
Through many of these buy-back services, you’ll list the make and the model of the electronic item, provide some details about the condition it’s in, and receive an instant offer via store credit, direct deposit, or PayPal.
It’s important to be honest about the condition (to avoid any messy return processes where you might be out the return shipping and waste unnecessary emissions), make note of any defects, and try to take as many photos as you can.
Before you send in anything, be sure to do a factory reset. Protect your privacy so that bank account information and your browsing history don’t end up in the hands of another.
Where can I sell broken electronics?
Think that laptop you tragically spilled coffee all over is destined for the landfill?
Sell Broke, Decluttr, Beagle Brain, and It’s Worth More (among others) can all be used to sell gently-used, functional, or even broken electronics with varying prices depending on the age and functionality of the device.
These third-party buyback platforms make it so you can still make a few bucks AND prevent all the undamaged parts from getting thrown away unnecessarily.
3. DONATE ELECTRONICS
If you’re wondering how to dispose of old electronics equipment and want a fuss-free way to help out someone other than yourself and the planet, consider donating it.
Putting old electronics to use again is a far better alternative than letting it end up in a landfill or going through the recycling process.
Plus, it has the chance to help a not-for-profit school, low-income household, veteran, or someone with disabilities.
The nonprofit organization human-I-T, for example, provides underserved communities with technology. Even better, they’ll pick it up, wipe your hard drive and sensitive data, send you a tax-deductible receipt, and help shrink the digital divide.
They NEVER shred, smelt, grind, or throw technology away either, so far keeping 4.5 million pounds of e-waste out of landfills.
Goodwill provides another option for donating computers and electronics. At some locations, they offer ReConnect, a partnership between Goodwill and Dell that provides job training while reselling, repairing, refurbishing, or recycling computers.
At nearly all locations, they accept laptops, TVs, Mp3 players, monitors, printers, scanners, hard drives, keyboards, mice, speakers, cords, cell phones, DVD players, VCRs, cables, ink cartridges, software, video game systems, and webcams.
It’s recommended to double-check with the location closest to ensure they’ll accept your old electronic equipment.
Here are some other electronics donation options:
- World Computer Exchange, Computers with Causes, and Cell Phones for Soldiers are other organizations that accept old electronics to either be donated, refurbished, or responsibly recycled.
- PickUp Please accept old, still-working electronics to resell. Any proceeds get donated to a veteran.
- If you’re wondering how to dispose of small electronics, do a search to find locations and programs in your area. Many nonprofit organizations and schools will accept small devices. We suggest first reaching out to inquire about what they accept.
4. RECYCLE ELECTRONICS
When all else fails and you’re certain that old iPod, TV or eco friendly kettle can no longer be in used (or even monetarily resold for refurbishment), recycling the electronics at a specialist e-waste recycler is the Earth-friendly thing to do.
According to the EPA, when a million cell phones are recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper and 772 pounds of silver can make their way into new products—minimizing the resources required and emissions produced in manufacturing virgin materials.
There are so many options to recycle, too!
Say you’re looking to dispose of electronics in NYC. You’ll likely find several organizations that accept e-waste to be recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.
Some of these are supported by local government initiatives and have options for drop-off and pick-up.
Your local dump and recycling center might even have an electronics recycling bin.
Look for facilities that are R2 certified, meaning that they meet the world’s most widely adopted standard for responsible electronics recycling. Across 28 countries, there are more than 900 of such certified facilities.
TERRA (The Electronics Reuse & Recycling Alliance) is one such responsible recycling organization. Community members can sign up to host recycling events in their area.
In many communities, electronics stores like Staples and Best Buy will also accept e-waste, though sometimes a fee is required.
NOTE: Before you start the electronics recycling process, clear any personal information and remove batteries (which you should recycle separately through companies like Call2Recycle).
5. HOW TO PREVENT E-WASTE
Sustainable technology means more than ethical electronics and eco-friendly appliances—it means making a conscious effort to keep those products in use longer and only make purchases when they’re absolutely necessary.
Here are some step-by-step tips for avoiding e-waste:
1. Be a good consumer. Before you buy a new Bluetooth speaker or wireless mouse, do your research. Know what goes into the product, how the raw materials are sourced, and who’s helped to manufacture it.
Then take some time to get to know the product itself. Check out reviews and consider different options so you get something perfectly suited to your needs that will last as long as possible (also a good time to check out used or refurbished electronics).
Preemptively looking into the recyclability of the item doesn’t hurt either.
2. Look for labels. Around the globe, there are a range of eco-labels used for electronics. These include certified B Corporation, Cradle to Cradle Certified, UL ECOLOGO, and ENERGY STAR.
3. Keep it simple. In 2017, the average digital consumer-owned 3.23 electronic devices. By 2020, residents in countries like the U.S., UK, and Germany owned 10.37, 9.16, and 7.13 devices, respectively.
Sure, many aspects of our lives have become more convenient thanks to technology, but is all of it really necessary? The latest iPhone camera may be spectacular, but that’s hardly reason enough to discard your barely two-year-old otherwise perfectly functioning phone.
In a world where the rapidly-growing “Internet of things” continues to pump out scary amounts of e-waste, consider what’s absolutely necessary—and what you can live without.
WHY CHOOSE PROPER ELECTRONICS DISPOSAL?
Many of us are well-versed on the release date of the newest iPhone, but perhaps our attention should shift to what that also means: inevitable e-waste.
E-waste, or electronic waste, is a term used to describe electronics that have reached or are nearing the end of their “useful life”—or are simply discarded when they’re replaced with a newer version.
This includes, but is not limited to: working and broken computers, TVs, printers, stereos, DVD players, smartphones, toasters, vacuums, keyboards, microwaves, fans, cables, mice, clocks, lamps, radios, remote controls, heating pads, calculators, phones, tablets, treadmills, and cameras.
Every year, roughly 45 million metric tons of e-waste are created around the world. In the U.S. alone, 400 million units are discarded every year.
Not only are these numbers rapidly growing, but they’re bringing about a range of associated problems.
E-waste causes environmental problems.
When an old microwave or keyboard ends up in a landfill or incinerator—which is the fate for 80-85% of discarded electronics in America (even in states where it’s illegal)—it has the potential to release hazardous substances directly into the environment.
Heavy metals and flame retardants seep into soils and eventually contaminate groundwater.
Over time, these toxins can cause irreversible damage in ecosystems, while also damaging soil quality and threatening biodiversity.
If it is informally disposed of (melted, shredded, or dismantled), it not only poses a risk of these dangerous chemicals being released into the environment and causing air pollution, but it also can lead to serious risks for humans, too.
E-waste causes social problems.
According to the EPA, the U.S. joins other developed countries in sending “an undetermined amount of used electronics” to developing countries.
There, with little enforcement or regulation, improper practices are used to dismantle electronics and recover valuable materials.
It’s these improper practices without safety equipment we should be concerned about.
Open-air burning and acid baths can expose workers to high levels of contaminants such as cadmium, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and lead.
These all pose a risk of irreversible health effects, including cancer, neurological damage, respiratory illness, DNA damage, impaired thyroid function, reproductive issues, and diminished IQs.
A damning 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) report urges immediate action “to protect the millions of children, adolescents, and expectant mothers whose health is jeopardized by the informal processing of discarded electrical or electronic devices.”
Estimates indicate roughly 12.9 million women and 18 million children are actively engaged in the waste processing sector and are potentially exposed to toxic e-waste.
Children, particularly, play an essential role in e-waste recycling because of their nimble fingers and improved dexterity. Unfortunately, they also absorb more toxins and have bodies that are less capable of metabolizing them.
For visual learners looking for a wake-up call, check out Welcome to Sodom, a behind-the-scenes look at a European e-waste dump in Ghana, Africa. Or of course, there’s always WALL-E!
E-waste is just that: a waste.
‘Waste’ is part of the name, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that many e-waste products contain components of significant value.
Most electronics contain precious metals and elements like cadmium, gold, lead, iron, and mercury. They also contain other less valuable but still recyclable elements like glass, fiberglass, and plastic.
These have an embedded value when you consider all the resources—both human and planetary—that went into producing them in the first place.
Not only is there economic value in keeping these materials in use, but tremendous environmental value, too.
If one million laptops were recycled, the amount of energy re-captured would be enough to power 3,657 U.S. homes for an entire year.
Before that laptop of yours reaches its end of life (EOL), it’s crucial you use it to figure out how to properly dispose of electronics so you have a plan for when the spinning pinwheel of death becomes permanent.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW TO DISPOSE OF ELECTRONICS
Will McDonough once said, “The future is electronic”.
Not to disagree with him entirely, but the future will be non-existent if we don’t figure out how to dispose of electronics in a way that doesn’t wreak havoc on our planet or put her people in harm’s way.
This requires us to come back to the 5 Rs of zero waste: refuse, reduce, reuse/repurpose, recycle, and rot.
In other words, it requires us to think about what electronics we really need in our lives and how we can ensure that it won’t cause harm once it reaches the end of its life.
It may seem like an insignificant action to save all your dead batteries until they can be properly recycled, or to repair your iPhone7 screen instead of getting the iPhone12, but this is exactly what we need to be doing.
Since we all use electronics, we all have a role to play in this. Please use technology as a force for good and share this article far and wide so that we can curb e-waste—rather than send e-waste to the curb.