Get Rid Of It – Recycling Your Old Electronics


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Mysterious computer cords just desperate to be recycled. Photo: Pablo Fehlauer

In the mad rush to get the newest fastest slickest version of every type of digital device out there, we humans have amassed a gigantic pile of electronic waste. And it’s growing at an alarming rate. Most of us have gotten accustomed to leaving our bottles and newspapers out front for curbside pick up and recycling, but what are we supposed to be doing with our outdated phones dead batteries and so-last-year cameras once we’re finished with them?

discarded computers in China

Discarded computer parts in China. Photo by: Bert van Dijk

For a long time, the answer was a simple “toss it”, which has resulted in massive piles of toxic waste being dumped into our landfills, polluting the soil and water with chemicals like lead, mercury and potentially explosive lithium to name a few.

“Unwanted computers, monitors and TVs – referred to as electronic waste or “e-waste” – is the fastest growing waste stream in the U.S. With technology constantly changing, we replace our electronics every few years. In 2007 alone, Americans generated about 232 million units of computer and TV-related e-waste, only 18% of which was recycled. In addition, it’s estimated that 235 million more units are stored in our basements, closets and garages.”

-The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

In fact, according to the EPA, over 3.2 million tons of electronic waste ends up in landfills every year. This can’t possibly be good. What is good are the hundreds of venues for disposing of this e-waste that are cropping up all over.

First stop, of course, is Krrb, where there are hundreds of people trolling the listings for your old iPhone or scanner. You know what they say about one man’s trash…

Organizations like Earth 911 and the EPA have made it easy by listing loads of recycling ventures, all searchable by zip code. And the organizations they list are all doing it by the books– Believe it or not, there are lots of unsavory business turning a profit by shipping the goods overseas to take advantage of lax or non existent environmental and labor laws. In this case, out of sight is most definitely not out of mind, so make sure you know who you’re dealing with!

If you live near a Staples (and these days, who doesn’t?) you can drop off your Dell computer (or any other brand for a $10 fee) as well as your PDA’s and cell phones, and they will transfer them to Eco International for recycling so you don’t have to.


So many cells phones... Photo by Ario

Flipswap will actually give you cash for your old phones… They work with charities to give your old phone a new home. Or they’ll recycle it responsibly, if it’s just too obsolete or otherwise not in good form.

And it’s not just non-profits either, some municipalities are actually leading the pack with massive e-cycling events where you can bring your old tech for re-purposing. Oregon is at the forefront of this movement– as of January 2010, it is actually against the law to toss your electronics in the trash. How cool is that? And their statewide program, Oregon E-Cycles., makes it easy to responsibly alleviate yourself of that old laptop you’ve been hanging on to for 8 years.

April is Earth month, and if you live in New York City you’ve got it made with the Lower East Side Ecology Center sponsoring e-waste recycling events all over the city, beginning with this Saturday (April 9) in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens. Be sure to check their site for other dates and locations.

And start saving the world, one out of date computer (and cell phone, and stereo) at a time!

  • Bionic Booty #81

    You can also recycle you phones and phone accessories with Cell Phones for Soldiers. They reuse the stuff that works and recycle anything that’s not working for money to buy soldiers calling cards. Here is their website

  • Kath Page

    If you have an old and unused mobile phone mobile phone recycling is
    simply the right thing to do. Mobile phones contain some non
    biodegradable elements that may be harmful for us so rather than keeping
     your old phone recycling it is a much better idea. 

  • Hey thanks a lot, Alex. I, for one, have a whole pile of old cell pones that I’m going to finally get rid of now that I’ve discovered these outlets!

  • Alex

    This is super helpful!

  • Eljon

    Thank goodness a practical list for moving old electronics out of the house responsibly has been provided by Brooke! I’ve been putting off the chore of recycling for ages. Thank You!