As Earth Day approaches, I’m looking at a bunch of old smartphones, computers and printers I need to clear out. I’d love to recycle these things, but I’m guessing I can’t just put them in the recycling bin. Can you help?
Environmentalist at heart
It’s a big problem. No wonder you’re considering it ahead of the April 22 event. People are replacing their smartphones within five years, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, while unused laptops and printers take up space in our closets.
So what should you do with all this stale technology? For sure, you don’t want to heave it into a dumpster, where it’s likely to end up as so-called e-waste in developing parts of Asia. There, electronic devices are first dismantled for valuable copper and other materials locked inside the plastic, and then shredded, crushed and burned in a landfill — releasing lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and a range of toxic chemicals. The results are devastating to the people exposed to these materials, and to the environment.
So what can we do to make sure our old gadgets don’t poison Mother Earth?
The US Environmental Protection Agency says to reduce, reuse and recycle.
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Obviously, the first thing you can do is keep your devices longer. That’s not just good for the environment. Your wallet will thank you, too.
You may be tired of your iPhone 6 already, but I’m sure the teenager in your house would love your hand-me-down. Wireless carriers and phone makers like Apple also offer trade-in programs for people looking to upgrade smartphones. Or you can sell your old devices on third-party sites like Gazelle. The bonus here is you get some cash to put toward your new phone or tablet.
You can donate old devices. Sprint’s 1Million Project, for example, distributes used smartphones and free Wi-Fi to high schoolers for their online homework. The Cell Phones For Soldiers program recycles old phones and uses the funds to help US troops. Some schools and libraries also accept donated computers and printers.
There comes a day when your smartphone, laptop or printer just… dies. That’s when it’s time to recycle. Recycling old electronics is easier now than ever before, thanks in part to the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge. The program encourages electronics manufacturers, brand owners and retailers to send used electronics to certified, third-party electronics refurbishers and recyclers. Participating companies include Best Buy, Samsung and Staples.
Gadgets: Two more tips
- Delete all personal information before recycling, reselling or donating a device.
- Recycle batteries separately, if you can, to make sure toxic chemicals get safely disposed.
The bottom line: How we dispose of our unused electronics can affect the health of the planet — and ourselves. To learn more about recycling your gadgets, visit the EPA website at epa.gov/recycle.
Marguerite Reardon (@maggie_reardon) answers readers’ phone, wireless and broadband questions. Email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Ask Maggie” in the subject header. Follow her “Ask Maggie” page on Facebook.
This story appears in the spring 2019 edition of CNET Magazine. Click here for more magazine stories.