According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average American household contains around 24 electronic gadgets. In Australia, there are 30 million mobile phones in use, while in the UK, each person buys three new electrical items every year.
All those electronics leave a lot of waste behind once they are no longer needed.
On top of plastics, there are many other substances found in everyday electronics, including lead in cathode-ray tube screens, selenium in circuit boards and cadmium in semiconductors. These substances not only pose a risk to the environment if not disposed of correctly, but can also be harmful to human health.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options available if you want to recycle your old gadgets rather than leaving them to languish as an expensive paperweight -- or even worse, as landfill.
If your device is still functional and has personal data stored on it, make sure to wipe it properly.
Then, you can decide whether to try and sell it, or recycle it in the right way.
Return them to the manufacturer
Many manufacturers of consumer electronics have recycling programs so you can send your old products straight back to the company. Here's a list of some major companies with recycling initiatives (US only, but some have similar policies in other countries around the world):
- stores will take back old products, and in some instances you can even get credit in the form of gift cards for gadgets that still work
- Canon will recycle products for a small fee once registered
- Dell has a mail-back service that lets you print a pre-paid FedEx return label for your old PC
- HP has a comprehensive range of product take-back initiatives across its range, with a selectable country finder to give you more information on region-specific practices
- LG has a list of drop-off sites for products, and also offers free packaging recycling
- Samsung has a mobile take-back program with a printable return label for end-of-life mobile phones and a similar service for most other Samsung devices through this site
- Sony has partnered with a range of drop-off locations across the US to accept products, and offers a free shipping label for items weighing less than 25 lbs
A great catch-all site that lets you search for recycling points for all forms of e-waste in the US is Earth911.com.
Australia has a wide range of e-waste recycling initiatives. Introduced in 2012, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is funded by companies that import electronics. As part of the scheme, the TechCollect website lists a range of of drop-off locations that will accept old computers, printers and TVs for free.
Mobile Muster accepts mobile phones and related accessories, with pre-paid envelopes available from Australia Post outlets. Prepaid mailing labels are also available direct from the website.
Recycling Near You has a list of locations that will accept other forms of e-waste.
United Kingdom legislation introduced in 2007 dictates that all distributors and retailers of electronics must have either a free take-back service in-store, or alternative free service. All local authorities in the UK accept e-waste for recycling: this website offers a list of locations filtered by postcode.
Donate working gadgets
For items that are still in working order, there are plenty of organisations that accept donations. The products will either be on-sold to raise money or. Don't forget to include chargers, keyboards and accessories where you can.
Here are just a few charities that will accept working electronics.
You can even sell your existing gadgets from the comfort of your own home through something like eBay's Giving Works. Choose the charity, create a listing and the funds are donated.
Recycling odds and ends
Some light globes such as CFLs and fluorescents contain mercury which means throwing them in your regular garbage collection is a no-no.
Many Ikea stores in North America will take back your old CFL globes for recycling, while all Home Depot locations across the US have collection points.
In Australia, hardware stores like Mitre 10 offer collection facilities and FluoroCycle has a list of locations that will take CFL and fluorescent bulbs in each state.
In the UK, many local recycling centres accept CFL bulbs, while Recolight provides a list of locations that also accept globes at no cost.
The type of battery will determine where and how you recycle.
In Australia, Aldi supermarkets have battery collection points for household alkaline batteries like AA, AAA, C, D and 9V, otherwise check with your local council for drop-off locations. For lithium-ion and other rechargeable batteries, check the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative.
In the US, Call2Recycle has a list of locations that will take all sorts of batteries, while the UK offers a similar take-back system to electronics. Retailers and distributors must have collection facilities for both household batteries and those found in other consumer electronics products.
Almost all printer manufacturers in the US will take back old cartridges for recycling, so check on the company website for details. In the UK, often a prepaid return envelope is included with the original cartridge, otherwise most manufacturers also run a take-back scheme.
In Australia, Planet Ark offers collection bins and a list of retailers that will accept used cartridges.