Why And How To Recycle Electronics – With A Geek Touch

recycle green cyke

Let’s talk recycling your electronics.Now this is something we rarely think bout since we geeks don’t like to throw stuff away, and sometimes shiny new things distract us.  It’s something I admit I didn’t think about much until my last move, when I had far less roommates (read zero) a mix of more and less space, and some unpacked boxes from my last move. There’s nothing like suddenly wondering “what the hell do I do with an old Tivo” to get you thinking.

Since the holidays have passed, except for the Celebration Of The New Year By Inebriation, and because I got curious about the issue of electronic recycling, Muse Hack is proud to present a guide to electronic recycling. It’s a chance to be a good geek citizen, learn more, and of course clean out that box of stuff you’ve really been meaning to clean out honest.

But first, let’s focus on why you do this.

Why Recycle Electronics?

OK, so why actually go out of our way to figure out how to dispose of that broken Nintendo DS, old cell phone, or broken computer? There’s plenty of good reasons, but let’s go with the obvious one.

Because E-Waste Is Insanely Toxic

Our friends at Electronics Take Back have a helpful guide as to all the things in electronics that can harm and kill you and destroy the environment. This is highly informative, a bit scary, and if you’re really clever, a source of horrific ideas for your next eco-apocalypse novel. Read through their helpful lists and you’ll star understanding why the EPA has so many rules on this.

If you really want to go hardcore science, then head over to EWaste and get a helpful list of all the hazardous substances in electronics. Honestly, at this rate it makes you want to use gloves whenever you dial your cell phone.

So what does all this toxicity mean? It means that finding proper ways to dispose of and reuse electronics is a damned good idea for our health. Just shoving stuff in a landfill is bad, however . . .

Remember, this stuff is hazardous and a lot of it is recycled legally or illegally in foreign countries. So let’s pick our recycling methods carefully so we’re not just dumping stuff on places that will become toxic hellholes.

If you’re gonna get rid of those old electronics, let’s do it in a way that minimizes the whole destroying the planet thing.

In fact, maybe we don’t need to break so much stuff down because . . .

Others Can Use It

That computer or phone that is out of date for you is probably a heck of a lot of useful to someone else who doesn’t need the latest gizmos. Which is probably more of us than we’d like to admit, but stick with me here.

Ever give someone an old computer? Ever donate a cell phone in one of those bins you see at electronics stories? Ever given old software to a school or museum? There’s plenty of ways to repurpose electronics without breaking them down. People can use this stuff.

It’s just that we don’t often think about it. Electronics are now a permanent part of first world life, a fixture we’re all to used to. We’re used to getting the latest thing. We’re used to them being everywhere.

We never think about how others can use it.

So when you start recycling your electronics, its a chance to do some good.

Make Some Money Back

Also to be brutally honest, you can sell some of the stuff you have. It’s not as noble an endeavor, but sometimes you sunk a lot of money into electronics and it seems fair to get something back.

There’s ways to sell of or reuse electronics to save or even get some money. Why not look into them rather than throw things away?

Now admittedly, I’m not exactly a supporter of this dollar-for-everything approach, but sometimes I think a person is entitled to at least its understandable for them to get some money back on an investment.

A Chance To Learn

No, really. When you stop dumping electronics in the garbage or in donation bins and start thinking of where to send them, how to repurpose them, it’s educational. It takes you out of the consumer cycle and into thinking about how to use it, employ it, and reuse it.

I repurposed an old Netbook into an Android box just to learn it. There’s fix-it shops at a local hackerspace a few miles from me where people gather to repair old devices. Plenty of people turn aged computers into light web servers.

Looking for innovative ways to recycle can teach you a lot of skills. Or be a conversation piece when you turn an old coffee maker into a fishbowl.

The Circle Of Life

OK, excuse me for getting mystical, but I find that recycling electronics is also a great way to keep aware of just how this stuff comes into being, is used, and what it means for the economy. Oh, and how the chemicals can kill you, but also in general the entire cycle of life thing.

You’ll learn how things are made and shipped, about chemicals and carbon footprints, about charities and refurbishing, and about skills and science. Trust me, just poking my nose into recycling from a purely practical point of view opened up an entire world to me that was rarely visible (especially in Silicon Valley) – where this stuff goes when it dies or gets reborn.

Now I know there’s recycling charities and corporate drives, EPA issues to be aware of, instruction guides for repurposing, and economic trends to watch for. For instance there’s certification programs for e-Recyclers in the US or you may find out about the life cycle of a cell phone.

So plenty of reasons to recycle. Now let’s dive into the resources I found on just how to do this.

Hang on, it’s gonna be an insane ride. Now by the way, this isn’t a complete guide, but it should be enough to get you started.

How To Donate And Recycle Your Electronics

OK first of all you want to actually recycle this stuff safely. I was able to find a lot with a little searching and a visit to the EPA.

General Guides

A few quick guides to what to do, and where to look are here:

  • The EPA Guide Page – To give you all the basics and some guides.
  • Earth 911 –  has plenty of recycling guides for electronics as well as other items.

Where to Send it

A lot of donations and recycling can be done locally (which is often easier).  Here’s some ways to find out what’s near you:

Charity Donations

You doubtlessly have many charities that take donations – some local, some national, and so on. Always be sure you check out what donations they do take. You might want to keep your devices in the local economy. So be it UNICEF or Goodwill or Oxfam, you can probably find someone local/international to take your stuff and put it to use.

Secondly, many charities have special focuses on given electronics such as how the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence takes cell phone donations.  If there’s any charity or cause you’re involved in, do some research to see if you have a ready-made opportunity to donate your electronic devices while supporting your favorite cause.  The more electronics become part of our daily lives, the more common I think this has become.

Third, a few even charities use electronic donations as a specific driver, taking donations to fund other causes – or local ones:

There’s also many causes that are dedicated to taking donations for electronics that reuse and repurpose them – excellent not just to donate for, but for we technically-inclined individuals to get directly involved in.  That’s a hint. (of course this is in the Civic Geek Catalog too).

(Oh and these tend to be US-centric.  Kind of focusing on what I know.).

  • Cell Phone Bank – Takes donations of cell phones and recycles them for use as emergency phones.
  • Cell Phones For Soldiers – Provides refurbed cell phones and more to soldiers so they can keep in touch.
  • Close The Gap – Takes computer donations from european countries and refurbishes them for emerging nations. Also works to recycle unusable equipment safely.
  • Computers With Causes – Takes donated computers and either gets them to charitable programs, or sells them for funds used to go to programs
  • Hope Phones – Outfits global health care workers (part of Medic Mobile) with donated cell phones.
  • Komputers4rkids – Focused on Southern California, the goal of Komputers4rkids is to bridge the digital gap in technology, and they accept electronic donations to help do it.
  • PCS for Schools – Refurbishes and upgrades donated computer equipment and uses it to bridge the technology gap in schools
  • Students Recycling Used Technology –  A kind of alliance of education causes and recycling and has (or had) chapters in Arizona, California, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. The Arizona and California ones seem to be the only ones active now.  Hey, might be an idea for you to pitch in if you’re in a StRUTless state . . .
  • The National Christina Foundation – Promotes technology reuse and helps connect people with local organizations and individuals that need their donations.
  • Wireless Foundation – Takes donations of used cell phones and focuses on ending family violence.
  • World Computer Exchange – A US and Canadian non-profit that reduces the digital divide with education, donated computers, and more.

There’s almost certainly more.  Let me know what you find!

For Profit Companies Taking Donations Or Recycling

Plenty of for-profit companies will help buy, recycle, repurpose,or otherwise take care of your electronic waste. Now they each have their own ways of doing things, but still it’s useful – and a few give gift cards or other things for your donation.

First, your’ll want to look for local organizations. Silicon Valley is infamous for the Weird Stuff Warehouse which takes donations and will e-cycle if needed – If you’re in a tech hub, you probably have a few equivalents.  Check your local listings – you might even make some friends or find a fun place to go to get odd technology.

Secondly some electronics and office companies do e-cycling. Some are limited to their own products, but still.

Also don’t forget many mobile phone carriers have a buyback program as part of your usual programs.

Give It Away

Well it’s easy to go on Craigslist or Freecycle and give things away – you can almost always find someone that wants and needs the things you don’t.  Post to social media for that matter and see who may need it.

Sell it

You can always sell things on:

Not to mention local options.

Repair Shop

Why donate stuff when you can fix it up? Test out and improve your skills actually fixing stuff (and then maybe donating it anyway).

A local hackserspace near me has a repair shop once a month where people bring in devices and others try to fix them. I’m sure you could find – or organize – a similar event.

Moving Forward

So now that you’ve thought about donating your electronics, recycling them, and avoiding terrifying confrontations with ecological reality, what’s next? Well I’ve got a few more resources to help you out.

  • http://www.amm.com/ – The American Metals authority. This may not sound like the most exciting read, but it’s a publication with a long history on the metals industry – including recycling and of course e-waste. You can dig up some fascinating information on what’s going on in the area, new plants being, built, and more.
  • http://greenergadgets.org/ – Greener Gadgets from the CEA provides guides on technology and the environment and responsible activities.
  • http://www.electronicsrecyclingdirectory.com/ – A guide to the Electronics Recycling Industry along with classifies, articles, and more. Good if you want to dive deep into the subject.
  • http://e-stewards.org/ – A site providing a recycler guide, news, and more for those interested in recycling.
  • http://www.electronicsrecycling.org/ – National Center For Electronics Recycling. A nonprofit that works to build and coordinate initiatives to improve electronic recycling.
  • http://greenelectronicscouncil.org/ – The Green Electronics Council. A nonprofit focused on environmental leadership in electronics
  • http://www.step-initiative.org/ – The Step Initiative takes a long-term view of understanding, planning for, recycling, and avoiding e-waste. If this is a cause dear to your heart, you may want to get involved.

As I said, diving into the world of e-recycling raises your awareness.  What more are you going to learn as you move forward . . .


– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.