How to Dispose of Electronics
Options for Getting Rid of Old TVs, Computers and Other Devices
Most of us have at least a couple old televisions or computers stashed in a corner of the basement, not to mention that drawer full of old cell phones you add to every time you’re due for an upgrade. When it’s finally time to buckle down and get rid of it all, there are options to consider before you toss them in the trash. Many electronics can still be useful to those in need. Even if not, your devices contain many valuable resources that can be recycled. On top of that, electronics contain many hazardous materials that should be kept out of landfills whenever possible. Use this guide to learn how to dispose of electronics conscientiously.
Assess the Condition of Your Electronics
To determine how to dispose of your old electronics, you first need to determine what condition they’re in. Electronics in working condition and that aren’t significantly outdated can be donated to charity. Otherwise, they should be recycled if at all possible.
Your electronics can be donated if:
- They are less than five years old.
- They still function reliably.
- They do not require major repairs or parts replacement.
Note that while many charities don’t have the resources to repair damaged devices, some that specialize in electronics may accept items in need of repair.
Option #1: Donate Your Electronics
Donating your old electronics allows you to dispose of them without harming the environment and while offering a helping hand to those in need. Consider the following options for donating your electronics:
- Local schools and libraries: For computers and related accessories.
- Local adult education and employment programs: For computers and related accessories.
- Local domestic violence and homeless shelters: For cell phones, computers and TVs.
- Local senior centers or assisted living facilities: For TVs.
- Computers with Causes: For computers and related accessories.
- Secure the Call: For cell phones.
- Goodwill: For computers, cell phones and various electronic accessories. No TVs in many locations.
- Salvation Army: For computers, cell phones and TVs less than five years old.
Keep in mind that most charities won’t be able to accept all types of electronics. Always inquire about their current needs and in what condition they accept items.
Option #2: Recycle Your Electronics
If your old electronics aren’t suitable for donation, recycling them will ensure that the important resources they contain are conserved while keeping hazardous substances out of the environment. Options for recycling electronics vary widely by location. Consider these tips for disposing of electronics responsibly when you can’t donate.
- Check if the manufacturer offers a take-back program.
- Check if your local Best Buy or other electronics store recycles electronics.
- Check your local government’s website for upcoming electronic collection events.
- Use Earth911’s Recycle Search to find electronics recyclers in your area.
Protect Your Information Before Disposing of Electronics
Before donating or recycling electronics, it’s essential to remove all of your personal information. For computers, follow these steps to wipe your hard drive and browsing history. For cell phones, follow these steps to ensure all personal data is removed from the device. When donating, some charities will do this work for you, but others don’t have the resources. In either case, it’s best to be sure you’re protected by doing the job yourself.
Option #3: Dispose of Your Electronics
Since electronics contain harmful substances that can be released in a landfill, throwing them out should generally be a last resort. Here’s how to dispose of electronics safely when they can’t be donated or recycled.
If you’re disposing of old electronics as part of a larger home cleanout, renting a dumpster is a good way to get rid of everything simultaneously. Be aware that electronics are not accepted in dumpsters in some areas due to local regulations. In other areas, an additional fee may be charged for handling electronics.
If you just have a few electronics to get rid of in addition to your everyday trash, you can place them in your garbage can or out at the curb for collection in many cities. However, many cities are banning electronics from area landfills due to the hazardous materials they contain. Double check the rules in your location.
Household Hazardous Waste Facility
If curbside collection isn’t an option in your area and you don’t have enough junk to warrant renting a dumpster, then the right way to dispose of electronics is to drop them off at your local household hazardous waste facility. Some facilities serve individual cities, while others operate at the county level. To find yours, search “household hazardous waste” on your city government website.
Electronics Disposal FAQs
Are there any fees associated with disposing of electronics?
In some areas, landfills charge a fee to dispose of electronics. This is done to cover the cost of properly handling the hazardous materials they contain. That fee will apply whether you’re disposing of electronics using a dumpster rental service or using curbside collection. However, in most areas there is no fee to drop off electronics at a household hazardous waste facility. Just be aware that you may need to provide proof of residency in the city or county that facility serves.
Why are there special regulations for electronics disposal?
Many electronic components contain substances, such as lead and mercury, which can be harmful to human health. While there’s no danger under normal circumstances, once electronics are compressed in a landfill those substances can be released into the environment. For this reason, many cities now require that electronics be disposed of with the same care as other hazardous items such as gasoline and motor oil.
Have some other tricky items to dispose of? Check out our other bulk waste disposal how-tos to learn how to get rid of other bulky and difficult debris.
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