The Environmental Protection Agency reports as many as 20 million PCs are disposed of in solid waste dumps every year, along with a staggering 130 million cell phones. As in previous years past, from cell phones and tablets to desktop computers and big screen televisions, millions of people in America will receive new technology for Christmas. But what do you do with all of your electronic waste, or “e-waste?” Here are some ideas on how to safely and productively get rid of unwanted e-waste.
First, remember, before giving away, donating or tossing any device, make sure all of your user data has been removed, particularly any personal information stored on cell phones, laptops and tablet computers. It’s best to seek professional help when clearing off old hard disk drives since reformatting processes can still leave some information intact and recoverable. Many local IT companies offer services to help you for a minimal fee.
You can dispose of many items in ordinary household garbage collection cans, but be careful. Some devices require special consideration. Particularly hard to dispose of are the old Cathode Ray Tube, or CRT, monitors and there are still plenty of them in use. These have to be disposed of properly because of the materials used in their manufacture. Many municipalities offer free or low-fee disposal programs. Contact your local Environmental Protection office or department of sanitary engineering for information on special drop off times and locations.
Sometimes you can recover a bit of cash from selling your previous equipment. If your devices aren’t too old, you can try selling them on eBay or Craigslist or on one of the many regional Facebook classified pages. Late model Apple products and digital cameras with advanced features tend to fetch the most money in online auctions. But if your devices are extremely outdated, they may classify as “vintage” and still retain a higher value. Do a little research online and see if there’s a market for your particular gadget.
Depending on the age of your device it may have value to a friend or family member. Older but still functioning laptop and desktop computers might be of great use to someone who doesn’t have one or might not care about the ‘latest and greatest.’ Ask around before disposing of your device.
Before doing anything else with your device, determine whether it might be repurposed for some other use, by you or someone you know. Older computers make good file and print servers for small, home offices. Likewise, old cell phones might make a good backup for someone on a similar system where the device is still supported for a period of time. Old cell phones can still be useful as a camera with cable attachments for downloading images to your computer.
Recycling your device is also an excellent option. Many retailers like Target and Walmart now provide receptacles for recycling old electronics. Some even have self-serve machines, much like a coin-counter unit, that pays you money for your old cell phone based on its age and type. You might also want to Google your area for commercial recycling companies who take electronics, including those dangerous CRT monitors.
In addition to paid recycling programs, a number of non-profit organizations like Goodwill Industries are now accepting donations of all types of old electronics, regardless of condition or age. Some are refurbished and sold while others are disposed of safely in a manner that provides some money to the charity.
Remember, the ultimate goal here is to prevent electronic equipment from piling up in landfills and creating hazardous waste threats. As batteries, circuit boards and other components break down, they release toxic chemicals but they can be safely disposed of and the materials reclaimed. It just takes a little effort on the part of the public and the manufacturers to help keep the environment free of these toxins.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business contributor to WDTN’s LIVING DAYTON program. More at www.gerydeer.com.