Tips for Recycling Electronics

Home, Home & Family, Living Green, Technology
on January 14, 2010

The latest cell phone. The fastest computer. The thinnest flat-screen TV.

When it comes to electronics, we want today's models, presenting the dilemma of what to do with yesterday's castoffs.

Electronic trash, or "e-waste," accounts for 70 percent of the toxic materials in landfills.

Instead of tossing outdated electronics in the trash, or boxing them up in the garage, why not recycle? With data showing that Americans own about 24 electronic products per household, the prospects for overwhelming our  landfills are daunting in a society with a high rate of technology turnover.

Electronics recyclingor "e-cycling"is a way to protect both the environment and public health.

"Many people don't realize, because computers and cell phones seem so safe when they're in their house, that there are actually a lot of toxic materials embedded deep within them," says Trey Granger, a spokesman for Earth911, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based service that maintains one of the nation's largest databases of recycling alternatives.

Electronic trash, or "e-waste," accounts for 70 percent of the toxic materials in landfills, Granger says. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and brominated flame retardants are among the culprits, and are associated with numerous health problems, including cancer, liver and kidney disease, neurological abnormalities, and damage to respiratory and reproductive systems.

Electronics break apart in landfills, releasing toxins that could leach into soil and water or become airborne. Cathode-ray-tube computer monitors and televisions are especially harmful, containing 2 to 7 pounds of lead each, depending on their age.

In addition to toxic waste, electronics contain valuable elements such as precious metals and manufactured plastics. By reusing those materials, "We reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution, save energy and save resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth," says Latisha Petteway, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Recycling 1 million desktop computers prevents the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 17,000 cars, according to the EPA.

In addition to TVs, computers and all types of phones, candidates for e-cycling include gaming systems, MP3 and CD players, radios, recorders, cameras, VHS and DVD players, and stereo components.

Reuse and recycle
Before getting rid of them, delete personal data from your computer and remove your cell phone's subscriber identity module (SIM) card. If you are donating items for reuse, make sure they are still operational.
To find ways to reuse and recycle:

  1. Check if local schools, churches or charities can put your unwanted electronics to use.Your donation could be tax deductible.
  2. Give old cell phones to a nonprofit organization that refurbishes them for people in need. Options include The Wireless Foundation's Call to Protect, or (202) 785-0081, or the Wireless Recycling Network, www. or (800) 441-1544.
  3. Visit to identify electronics manufacturers and retailers that participate in the EPA's "Plug-In to eCycling" program. Plug-In partners, including AT&T, Dell, Verizon Wireless, Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples, offer services such as in-store take back, mail-in recycling for people in rural areas, and online trade-in. Some offer store credit for your discarded electronics, and many host local collection events.
  4. Learn about recycling options in your area by visiting or calling (800) CLEANUP.  Drop-off locations are available by entering your ZIP code. A similar service is available at You also can check with your local municipality, county or solid-waste district to learn whether an electronics collection program exists in your area.