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Recycle your old phone, laptop, TV and batteries -- everything you need to know

Whatever you do, never throw old electronics away.

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Recycling electronics is just as important as recycling cans, paper and glass. 

Derek Poore/CNET

Devices can pile up over the years -- batteries, cables and older devices for nostalgic reasons, or because you thought you might be able to use it down the line. Peek into your drawers, the garage or a dark corner of your closet, and you're sure to find a pile of stuff you really don't need.

Leave the tech museum to somebody else. You have better things to do than let dust collect on that creaky old laptop, ancient flip phone or a camera you thought you'd one day save for your kids. Whatever the tech, when it's finally time to say goodbye, there's a right way to dispose of your old gadgets and a lot of wrong ways. We'll help you out.

Read more: Best places to sell your used electronics in 2019 | Go greener with these cool eco-friendly products 

Why can't I just throw my old devices and batteries away?

If your electronics wind up in a landfill, they don't just leave behind wires and plastic (which is a huge problem in itself). If dumped or improperly disposed of, e-waste can damage you and the environment.

Most electronics contain toxic materials like lead, flame retardants, and chromium.  These materials can cause damage to human kidneys, the blood and the nervous system, Ilene Lubell, president of the Mayer Metals Corporation, which recycles old electronics for businesses, wrote in a blog post.

A big ol' pile of smartphones.

Never throw old phones in the trash.

Josh Miller/CNET

When electronics are dumped or thrown away incorrectly, those toxins can leak into landfill, groundwater, and vaporize into the atmosphere when heated, according to Lubell.

There are a number of eco-friendly ways to dispose of your old electronics that could potentially help people in need or in underserved communities. It's important to note that the disposal protocol can differ by device.

Behind the scenes, devices are recycled, refurbished or redistributed. Sometimes they're mined for parts, or melted down to extract the rare earth materials within. Apple's Material Recovery Lab in Texas uses robots to dismantle iPhones ($900 at Amazon) at a rate of 200 devices per hour.

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OK, I'm sold. What should I do before I get rid of my device?

When you're finished with batteries or a gadget, make sure it's also finished with you. Even though it might be old, someone just needs a charger to reboot your old phone or computer to get to your personal data.

The moral of this story: Make sure to back up anything you want off the device-- photos, videos, songs, etc. and then perform a factory reset -- don't worry, we'll give you pointers on wiping your device in the sections on phones, laptops and cameras below.

All those dead batteries

There are a couple ways you can properly dispose of the single-use and rechargable batteries, like AA, AAA and D-cell batteries that are common in flashlights, toys and other household electronics.

Best Buy, Whole Foods, Home Depot, Lowes and Staples all have free drop-off spots to take dead batteries off your hands. We suggest collecting your used batteries in a container and taking them in when it starts to get full.

You could also check out Earth911, a website that helps you find the nearest recycling location based on the type of battery you need to dispose of (e.g., alkaline, button cell, lithium, zinc-air, etc.). Call2Recycle can also help you find places to recycle your batteries.

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E-waste can have a second life after professional recyclers extract copper and other valuable materials.

Sims Recycling Solutions

How to recycle phones

Smartphones and their batteries are one of the easiest electronics to recycle, according to Call2Recycle

Remember to transfer any data and photos on your old phone to a new phone, or otherwise save your photos before performing a factory reset. Remember to remove the SIM card, if it's still there.

The company accepts all phones and batteries regardless of size, make, model or age. Call2Recycle can refurbish the device for resale or recycle the materials for a new device. If you look hard enough, you can even get paid for recycling your phone.

If your phone is recent enough, you may be able to trade it in to a carrier if you're buying a new phone, or sell it on the open market. Otherwise, if it's lost a lot of value, recycling may be your best bet for getting a dusty phone off your hands.

Read: How to sell or recycle your phone for cash

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Cables are fair game, too.

Taylor Martin/CNET

Best Buy accepts three phones per household per day, Lowes has recycling centers at every location, Home Depot takes cellphones up to 11 pounds and Staples also takes phones.

Whole Foods works with Secure the Call to get 911 emergency-only phones to senior citizens and domestic violence shelters. Just make sure you bring the charger.  

You can also donate your gently used phones to Cell Phones for Soldiers. The program helps troops call their families at home for free. Local communities may also take donations as part of a citywide drive.

We also suggest checking with your employer to see how it handles e-waste. You may be able to add a few items to the collection.

Laptop recycling made easy

Before you scrap your old computer, ask yourself if it's still usable. If it's less than five years old, chances are someone else can put it to good use, according to TechSoup. Newer laptops can go to local nonprofits or libraries after being refurbished. You can find a program through Microsoft's Registered Refurbisher directory.

If the device is too old or out of shape to donate, you can recycle it. Again, our friends at Earth911 make it easy: just search for "laptop computer" and enter in your ZIP code to find the nearest drop off site. Dell's Goodwill Reconnect Program also accepts old and broken hardware.

Make sure the program you're leaving your old hardware with is reputable on the EPA's Certified Electronics Recyclers site and feel free to reach out to the refurbisher or recycler to double check.

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Newer laptops make great donations. Just remember to wipe the drives first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When you bring in the laptop, remember all the goodies that came with it-- keyboard, mouse, printer, modem and any software. Usually, refurbishers can repackage all of this. Just remember to wipe your data first!

Additionally, donating your laptop could earn you a tax break. Keep track of what you've donated just in case. You can learn more in the  Sage BlueBook or Section 170 of the Federal Income Tax Code if you're feeling particularly ambitious.

Chargers and wires can be recycled, too

If you're like my husband, and you keep boxes upon boxes of wires, chargers and cables in your basement (just in case you ever need one), it might be time to let go. The type of wire you've got lying around might be worth something. You can search Capital Scrap Metal for prices. For example, as of April 19, copper is going for $2.45 per pound.

You can also drop off your cables at Best Buy, Staples and other locations. Chargers can also be repurposed. Sometimes if a cord stops working with one device, you might be able to make it work with another. Thrifty!

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Otherwise, look into donating your old cables, cords, chargers and wires at local STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) school programs, Google STEM, National Center for Electronics Recycling or Earth911.

Yes, you should recycle your old camera

If you're still holding onto camera relics from the early 2000s, we've got a few places that will take them off your hands.

Best Buy and Home Depot accept cameras and camcorders. Lowes also takes cameras. And, of course, Earth911 and Call2Recycle are options for the breadth of your used electronics.

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Large TVs may seem like a pain to donate, but you can find a service, like Best Buy, to pick it up for $20. Consider it a donation to the environment.

Sarah Tew/CNET

TV recycling is possible

Televisions are larger electronics, so it might take a bit more elbow grease to get the job done, but don't let that intimidate you. Similar to donating and recycling phones and laptops, there are a few things you need to know about getting rid of your old TV. If the set still works, consider donating it to a secondhand store.

If you're able to restore it to factory settings, smart TVs that are likely to contain personal information. Unplug everything, bundle the cords neatly and tape them to the unit. Use a dolly and be careful while you're moving the TV -- the potentially toxic materials in the TV could release into your house if you drop it.

A Google search will show you a number of local recycling and donation centers that accept larger electronics. Best Buy, for example, will pick up two TVs per house per day for $20 if you're getting a new set -- Tube TVs smaller than 32 inches, portable TVs and flatscreens, LCDs, LEDs and plasmas smaller than 50 inches. Standalone pickups are $100. You can also drop off your TV at the store -- three TVs (with accessories) per household per day.

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