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Friday, September 15, 2023

How to Dispose of Old Electronics

Computers, phones, tablets, televisions, printers, chargers … all that old hardware may contain sensitive information and/or heavy metals. Here’s how to easily and safely repurpose or dispose of it.

It’s surprisingly easy to properly dispose of your electronic waste. In addition to computing devices, this includes everything from electric toothbrushes to kitchen mixers. Many of the components, such as plastic, glass, metal and aluminum, can be recovered and reused (Apple’s MacBook Air contains up to 40% recycled content). And 25 states have laws about how to dispose of electronics that contain toxins such as lead, mercury, and cadmium.

Wipe Your Device

If your device contains sensitive information, the first thing you’ll want to do is wipe it clean. Here’s how to remove data from a computer or phone. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, you can make an appointment to take the device to a computer store such as Best Buy where a Geek Squad agent will wipe the hard drive for you.

Repurpose Your Old Phone or Tablet

You may decide to trade in, recycle or donate retired hardware, or to give it to a family member who shares your wireless carrier account. But there are more options. You can turn it into an extra TV by downloading the app for your service (such as Netflix) and using your account. If the battery is shot, just keep it plugged in or park it in a speaker cradle. It can become a universal remote for your smart home by using the relevant apps. It can become a game controller. Or you can always use it to entertain and educate a child by wiping it and downloading kid-friendly content after erasing your own information.

For more information on how to make any of these conversions, go here.

Will your phone company automatically clear your personal information if you trade it in or offer it for recycling? Verizon says it will automatically wipe data off your phone before recycling but follows with the caveat that “you shouldn’t rely on this” and you should wipe the data yourself.  Phone carrier T-Mobile clarifies that while its recycling partners clear data, the company itself is not responsible for your privacy and offers instruction on how to protect your information.

Recycle It

There are plenty of ways to keep as much as possible of your devices out of a landfill. Call2Recycle is a national group that offers drop-off sites for batteries and cell phones, or you can ship devices to them. Earth911 that covers the country. FreeCycle is a grassroots organization that lists items people are willing to give away in their hometown. If your device has some life left in it, this is a good way to help someone in your community. 

You may also be able to trade in your old device and get credit. Check with your phone carrier before you buy a new device. Apple will recycle any of their own hardware for free, or you may also be able to get credit toward a new device. Other phone manufacturers such as Samsung have their own recycling programs. 

Donate It

There is likely a charity that will take working (or non-working) devices from you at no cost. Get a tax receipt and deduct your donation at tax time. 
  • Goodwill accepts computers and anything that can be connected to one, such as a monitor, charger or drive, in any condition.
  • ARC thrift stores will accept a wide range of electronics, including computers and phones. However, they will not accept TVs more than five years old or any of the items listed here.
  • Savers will accept a wide variety of items but they must be in working condition.

Best Buy is in a league of its own. The retailer takes in about 400 pounds of unwanted electronic goods every minute. Your local store will take most electronic devices in any condition, no matter where or when you bought them. They also have an appliance recycling program for a fee, including a haul-away service that removes one or two appliances from your home. 

And, as we mentioned above, the store’s Geek Squad will wipe devices with sensitive data clean for a nominal fee so you can unload all the electronics you’ve got shoved in drawers and closets at once. Headache gone!

Discarding your unwanted electronic devices responsibly is good for our kids and grandkids. Thanks to a strong network of nonprofits and for-profit companies, it’s easier than ever to do.