The electronic devices we use to run our businesses, entertain ourselves, and interact with our social groups become obsolete quickly, but throwing them out creates unnecessary waste—the rare metals and refined plastics contained within them take considerable energy and resources to manufacture.
Sadly, according to the EPA, less than 20% of the more than 2 million tons of electronic waste collected each year in the US is recycled. But if you want to give your old laptop, phone, tablet, or TV a new lease of life, it could end up doing incredible things.
Before you start
Before you donate or recycle your old device, there are a couple of important steps to take. First, make sure you delete any and all personal data from the device. Back up and remove locally stored content, disconnect from the cloud, delete your existing user profiles, reset to factory defaults, and take any other steps you feel are necessary to remove your imprint. Not only does this keep you safe by preventing identifying information from falling into the wrong hands, it makes it easier for the next user to repurpose the device. You can further maximize a device’s potential usability by gathering any supplemental equipment that you have - chargers, adaptors, connectors, manuals, etc. Even without all the peripherals that originally came with your device, including as much as you can when you donate it will be a big help to the recipient.
The best way to find out where you can recycle your devices is via local government websites. Many cities, towns, and counties have a waste facility or recycling depot that will take electronics and either separate the working parts for reuse or extract valuable materials for refabrication. If online information does not clarify whether a particular local facility accepts electronics, it is worth phoning up or paying a visit - onsite staff will often be able to direct you to the appropriate place, even if they are unable to take your devices themselves. If local facilities do not meet your needs, there are larger scale options as well. The EPA maintains a list of approved recycling partners. These are primarily consumer electronics companies who will be happy to accept old products for recycling through the mail or in-store.
Help those in need
Even an old cellphone can be a powerful thing. We often take for granted the devices that allow us to communicate with anyone from loved ones to businesses from anywhere in the world just by reaching into our pockets. However, not everyone has access to this capability. To counteract this, organizations in the US and around the world rehome old mobile phones to groups of people that are particularly in need of them. Hopeline, a program by Verizon, provides refurbished phones to local domestic violence agencies so their clients can reach out in moments of crisis. In Europe and the Middle East, many non-profit organizations pass recycled phones on to refugees and displaced individuals so that they are better able to stay connected to their families and seek assistance when they arrive in new countries.
For years, technology has opened up new educational opportunities for schools around the world. Acquiring digital equipment for all students is not always feasible within any given school budget, however. If you are looking for a new home for used computers, monitors, A/V equipment, or other electronics, many local organizations provide refurbished donated devices to schools in need. Your old electronics can also be turned into donations to almost any kind of charitable cause, irrespective of whether it involves computers or not. Programs like eBay’s ‘Sell for Charity’ function allows you to immediately donate the profits from the sale of your old device to a cause of your choosing.
Become something new
Recycle, reuse, or rehome - just don’t throw it out! Whether you donate your device to a good cause, dispatch its valuable components for recycling, or just pass it on to a friend in need, you can participate in the circular economy, put those resources back into use, and help to reduce your impact on the environment.
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