Friday, 2 January 2009

E-Waste - Recycling Electronics

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Happy New Year, everyone! Maybe you unwrapped a new electronic gadget or toy over the holidays, or maybe your family decided that instead of getting a converter to switch your old television over to digital receiving it's time to spring for a brand new model. So now, what are you going to do with your old stuff?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by the end of 2007, "of the 2.25 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products ready for end-of-life (EOL) management, 18% (414,000 tons) was collected for recycling and 82% (1.84 million tons) was disposed of, primarily in landfills." Almost 2 million tons of e-waste, now leaching heavy metals and other toxic elements into our environment, in the United States alone! And that's not counting all those old cell phones tossed into a drawer or outdated computer monitors collecting dust in the garage. The EPA estimates another 235 million items, not counting cell phones, are sitting unused, in storage. No electronic gadget is too outdated to recycle, so here's a quick guide on what you can do to act in a responsible and green manner (Note: I live in the USA, so a lot of my information pertains to local resources. I hope my international co-writers and readers will add information regarding the resources available in other countries).

First, consider making some money from your old electronics. If your old IPod or GameBoy is still in decent condition, look into listing it on Craigslist or Ebay. Be honest about the condition and any missing cords or peripherals, and be sure to remove any personal information. Some stores, such as Staples or Best Buy, offer store credit for used equipment. Turning in your old laptop or camcorder might garner a voucher for $100 or more. Apple offers a discount on a new item when you turn in your old. Kodak will purchase any functional old digital camera, regardless of brand, when you buy a new one from the company.

Next, consider giving it away. has many local groups across the globe, dedicated to keeping stuff out of the landfills; giving (and getting) unwanted articles free of charge in a local, grassroots, setting. It's free to join. If there isn't a group near you, you might consider starting one.

Many non-profit organizations are only too happy to take your old, still-working, electronics. Your local homeless or domestic violence shelter could find a good home for your old analog television (consider donating a coupon for a converter with it - call 1-888-388-2009 before March 31, 2009, or go here to request two coupons maximum per address). Here, we have a local non-profit that takes any old computer equipment - CPU's, monitors, printers, cords, software - and refurbishes it for seniors and schoolchildren unable to afford one of their own. Earth911 or your local phone book might help you find a similar operation in your community. Ask them about removal of personal information before donating a computer. You might want to invest in a hard-drive overwriting program, such as WipeDrive, to prevent identity theft or other problems.

Those old cell phones (and chargers) piling up in a drawer, working or not, can help survivors of domestic violence. The phones are refurbished to call only the local 911 operator, but could save a life. More information, including drop-off sites, can be found here. Again, remove all personal information before donating.

As a last resort, or for items that no longer work, take the time and effort to recycle responsibly. Some places are available free of charge, or sometimes you might have to pay a nominal fee. Office Depot has various sizes of tech recycling boxes you can purchase, fill with any and everything, seal up and send off for recycling. C'mon people, Mother Earth and our future are worth paying $10 to do things right! Those items aren't waste - they're a resource! Go here to enter your zip code and find recycling drop-off sites for everything, electronic or otherwise, near your home; or go here for more information about specific companies and items. Let's all start the new year with a cleaner conscience and a cleaner earth.