Our Gadgets Aren't Getting Recycled Enough. How You Can Help

Phones, batteries and electronic devices are thrown away five times more than they're recycled, a UN report says.

Tamara Palmer Contributing writer
Tamara Palmer is a DJ, author and publisher of the small-batch print magazine California Eating.
Tamara Palmer
2 min read
Nokia 2780 Flip phone
James Martin/CNET

As upgrades continue to offer less, we're keeping our phones longer than we used to. But we're still throwing an awful lot of them away. According to a new UN Global E-waste Monitor report released last month, we're even doing it at a rate that's almost five times faster than the equivalent materials are being recycled.

The volume of e-waste generated rose from 34 billion kilograms (about 75 billion pounds) to 62 billion kilograms (about 137 billion pounds) between 2010 and 2022, the UN report found. To drive the point home, the report estimates that this 62 billion kilograms of e-waste could fit on 1.55 million trucks, forming a line that would wrap all the way around the Earth's equator. 

Meanwhile, the amount of e-waste that has been documented to be recycled has risen from 8 billion kilograms to just 13.8 billion kilograms in that same time period.

The UN's International Telecommunications Union set a goal to get 50% of the world's nations (97 countries) to adopt an e-waste policy, legislation or regulation by 2023. But the report shows that this effort is slowing down, and just 81 countries, or 42%, have done anything to address e-waste. There are factors that can interfere with accurate data. Systems for documenting and reporting the recycling of electronics vary widely by country, for one. 

As we approach Earth Day -- April 22 -- here's what you can do to help deal with your old electronics.

Watch this: How to recycle your old phone or electronics

How you can recycle electronics

There's no need to throw away your old phones, batteries, computers and other gadgets when there are many free and easy ways to recycle your electronics, including mailing, taking them to a recycling center, a big-box retail store like Best Buy or Home Depot or sometimes even the product manufacturer. 

If you live near an Apple store, for example, you can hand in your old iPhone or other Apple products to be recycled, and some of those products may qualify for trade-in credit. According to the Apple Reuse and Recycling Program, turning in your devices can "help us get closer to making every product with only recyclable and renewable materials."

And here's where to recycle your old computers and printers for free.

For larger IT recycling needs, Dell's Asset Recovery Services will take and safely handle equipment even if it's actually not made by Dell. If your business or friend group has at least 10 phones to recycle, Smartphone Recycling accepts devices in bulk sent with the assistance of a free, print-at-home FedEx shipping label. In addition to phones, the company accepts Apple products and other tablets.

You could also repair your old devices, with iFixit offering DIY guides and tech companies now making it easier to remove and replace damaged parts. If you don't like the DIY route, you could also take it back to the manufacturer or a third party for a repair.

Read more: Phone and Laptop Repair Is Going Mainstream, With a Big Push From iFixit