Gadgets can pile up over the years -- new ones come out, old ones break. You probably have a drawer full of old batteries and cables, and some old phones, laptops and desktops lying around, which may only be growing larger if you've replaced any of your electronics over the holidays. Perhaps you keep them for nostalgic reasons or because you thought you might be able to use them again down the line.
Be brave. Stay focused. Peek into your drawers, the garage or a dark corner of your closet, and you will likely find a pile of electronics you really don't need.
Whatever the tech, when it's finally time to say goodbye, there's a right way to dispose of your old gadgets - and a lot of wrong ways. I'll help you out.
Why can't I just throw my old devices and batteries away?
If your electronics wind up in a landfill, they don't just leave behind wires and plastic (which is a huge problem in itself). If dumped or improperly disposed of, e-waste can damage the environment.
Most electronics contain toxic materials like lead, flame retardants and chromium. These materials can cause damage to human kidneys, the blood and the nervous system.
When electronics are dumped or thrown away incorrectly, those toxins can leak into landfill, groundwater and vaporize into the atmosphere when heated, according to Lubell.
There are a number of eco-friendly ways to dispose of your old electronics that could potentially help people in need or in underserved communities. It's important to note that the disposal protocol can differ by device.
Behind the scenes, devices are recycled, refurbished or redistributed. Sometimes they're mined for parts or melted down to extract the rare earth materials within. Apple's Material Recovery Lab in Texas uses robots to dismantle iPhones ($899 at Amazon) at a rate of 200 devices per hour.
What should I do before I get rid of my device?
When you're finished with a gadget, make sure it's also finished with you. Even though it might be old, someone just needs a charger to reboot your old phone or computer to get to your personal data.
The moral of this story: Be sure to back up anything you want off the device -- photos, videos, songs -- and then perform a factory reset. Don't worry, I'll give you pointers on wiping your device in the sections on phones, laptops and cameras below.
All those dead batteries
There are a couple ways you can properly dispose of the single-use and rechargeable batteries, like AA, AAA and D-cell batteries that are common in flashlights, toys and other household electronics.
Best Buy, Whole Foods, Home Depot, Lowes and Staples all have free drop-off spots to take dead batteries off your hands. I suggest collecting your used batteries in a container and taking them in when it gets full. I take ours to the Lowes in Española. Right inside the entrance, near the Customer Service desk is a battery recycling station.
You could also check out Earth911, a website that helps you find the nearest recycling location based on the type of battery you need to dispose of (for instance, alkaline, button cell, lithium, zinc-air). Call2Recycle can also help you find places to recycle your batteries.
How to recycle phones
Phones and their batteries are some of the easiest electronics to recycle, according to Call2Recycle.
Remember to transfer any data and photos on your old phone to a new phone, or otherwise save your photos before performing a factory reset. Remember to remove the SIM card, if it's still there.
The company accepts all phones and batteries regardless of size, make, model or age. Call2Recycle can refurbish the device for resale or recycle the materials for a new device. If you look hard enough, you can even get paid for recycling your phone.
If your phone is new enough, you may be able to trade it in to a carrier if you're buying a new phone or sell it on the open market. Otherwise, if it's lost a lot of value, recycling may be your best bet for getting a dusty phone off your hands.
Whole Foods works with Secure the Call to get 911 emergency-only phones to senior citizens and domestic violence shelters. Just make sure you bring in the charger with the old phone.
You can also donate your gently used phones to Cell Phones for Soldiers. The program helps troops call their families at home for free. Local communities may also take donations as part of a citywide drive.
Never throw old phones in the trash.
Laptop recycling made easy
Before you scrap your old computer, ask yourself whether it's still usable. If it's less than five years old, chances are someone else can put it to good use, according to TechSoup. Newer laptops can go to local nonprofits or libraries after being refurbished. You can find a program through Microsoft's Registered Refurbisher directory.
If the device is too old or out of shape to donate, you can recycle it. Again, Earth911 makes it easy: Just search for "laptop computer" and enter in your ZIP code to find the nearest drop off site. Dell's Goodwill Reconnect Program also accepts old and broken hardware.
Make sure the program you're leaving your old hardware with is reputable on the Environmental Protection Agency's Certified Electronics Recyclers site and feel free to reach out to the refurbisher or recycler to double-check.
Newer laptops make great donations. Just remember to wipe the hard drives first.
When you bring in the laptop, remember all the goodies that came with it -- keyboard, mouse, printer, modem and any software. Usually, refurbishers can repackage all of this. Just remember to wipe your data first!
Additionally, donating your laptop could earn you a tax break. Keep track of what you've donated just in case. You can learn more in the Sage BlueBook or Section 170 of the Federal Income Tax Code if you're feeling particularly ambitious.
Chargers and wires can be recycled, too
Perhaps you too have boxes or drawers of wires, chargers and cables in the basement (just in case you ever need one.) Well, it might be time to let them go. Many older cables are obsolete and won’t be of use in the future. You can search Capital Scrap Metal or InvestmentMine to see whether wires you've got lying around might be worth something. For example, as of April 2020, copper is going for $2.35 per pound, according to InvestmentMine.
You also can drop off your cables at Best Buy, Staples and other locations. Chargers can be repurposed, too. Sometimes if a cord stops working with one device, you might be able to make it work with another. Thrifty!
Otherwise, look into donating your old cables, cords, chargers and wires at local science, technology, engineering and mathematics school programs, Google STEM, National Center for Electronics Recycling or Earth911.
Yes, you should recycle your old camera
If you're still holding onto camera relics from the early 2000s, we've got a few places that will take them off your hands.
Best Buy and Home Depot accept cameras and camcorders. Lowes also takes cameras. And, of course, Earth911 and Call2Recycle are options for the breadth of your used electronics.
Large TVs may seem like a pain to donate, but you can find a service, like Best Buy, to pick it up for $20. Consider it a donation to the environment.
TV recycling is possible
Televisions are larger electronics, so it might take a bit more elbow grease to get the job done, but don't let that intimidate you. As with donating and recycling phones and laptops, there are a few things you need to know about getting rid of your old TV. If the set still works, consider donating it to a secondhand store.
If you're able to restore it to factory settings, do so for smart TVs that are likely to contain personal information. Unplug everything, bundle the cords neatly and tape them to the unit. Use a dolly and be careful while you're moving the TV -- the potentially toxic materials in the TV could release into your house if you drop it.
A Google search will show you a number of local recycling and donation centers that accept larger electronics. Best Buy, for example, will pick up two TVs per house per day for $20 if you're getting a new set -- tube TVs smaller than 32 inches, portable TVs and flatscreens, LCDs, LEDs and plasmas smaller than 50 inches. Standalone pickups are $100. You can also drop off your TV at the store -- three TVs (with accessories) per household per day.
So remember to recycle or re-use your old electronics.
Help make this column better by sharing your tips or experiences with your own tech with the Sangat. Email me and tell me your story or tip and do keep sending me suggestions for column topics along with your fave smartphone apps and reviews so I can share them here. Just email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org