How to Recycle Electronics

Jane Marsh - October 31, 2022

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We are in the midst of the digital age where electronics dominate the consumer market. In post-industrial countries like the U.S., almost all citizens own a cellphone. Environmentalists recognize a feature of electronic manufacturing and marketing influencing ecological conditions called planned obsolescence.

The term signifies the short life expectancy of electronic devices which influences high consumer rates and the profitability of manufacturing companies. Individuals accept the impermanence of devices and look forward to upgrading them when they show signs of damage. The overconsumption of devices creates ecologically degrading e-waste, which consumers can target when they recycle electronics.  

What is E-Waste and Why Should You Recycle Electronics?

Before individuals assess the different recycling tactics, they must explore the adverse impacts of e-waste. When electronics reach the end of their useful lives, they become garbage. If the devices reach municipal waste landfills, they may leak toxins into the environment and cause adverse ecological impacts.

Smartphones, tablets, desktops, microwaves and other electronics contain chemicals like mercury, lead, cadmium and brominated flame retardants. As the devices degrade over time in landfills, stormwater carries the contaminants to local water sources. The toxins may also absorb into the soil and pollute agricultural food production regions.

E-waste directly causes human harm by impacting processing professionals. Many developed nations illegally export their electronics to less developed countries for handling and disposal. As employees deconstruct the devices to recover valuable materials, they increase their exposure to harmful toxins.

Flame retardants cause various adverse ecological and human health effects. They also remain in the environment for years and accumulate in individuals’ bodies and local ecosystems. Consumers can prevent harmful e-waste impacts by engaging in four recycling techniques.

Manufacturer Responsibility

About 25 states, including D.C., established manufacturer responsibility legislation. The legislation holds producers responsible for their e-waste, even in the hands of consumers. In the designated states, manufacturers must pay to collect and recycle their used products.

Some regions like California use an advanced recycling fee to support the collection programs. When consumers purchase their electronics, they pay a $10 or lower fee as a recycling deposit. Colorado is supporting manufacturer responsibility regulations by prohibiting e-waste disposal at landfills.

Whether or not individuals live in a state with manufacturing responsibility laws, they can take the initiative to find sustainable end-of-life processing options. There are six ways consumers can engage in electronic recycling to reduce e-waste.  

1. Donate Outdated Devices

The first way consumers can recycle electronics is by donating their outdated devices. Giving your electronics to second-hand stores can reduce the equivalent energy waste of nearly 3,500 houses. Before consumers donate their devices to thrift shops, they can ensure their personal protection by wiping the sim card.

You can also log out of your iCloud accounts to protect your passwords, photos and other sensitive information. Individuals may additionally donate their usable electronics to schools in need to improve equal educational opportunities. Consumers can further prevent e-waste by signing up for mail-in recycling services.

2. Order a Mail-In Recycling Service

A few years back, China placed a ban on recycling services for post-industrial nations like America. Environmentalists started companies to increase individuals’ access to regional recycling programs. Mail-in kits improve the convenience of electronic recycling and reduce e-waste.

Some of the services are also free, which increases their equal accessibility. Similar programs require individuals to drop off their devices at collection centers that also recycle electronics for free.

3. Find E-Waste Drop-Off Facilities Near You

Many of the large electronic distributors, like Best Buy and Office Depot, have designated device drop-off centers. The tech stores are helping electronic companies abide by manufacturer responsibility regulations. They are teaming up with national recycling centers to ensure their drop-off waste reaches accountable processing professionals.

4. Turn Broken Appliances into Art

Individuals can also recycle their broken electronics by turning them into art. Some modern artists are collecting used devices to develop impactful projects. One designer is converting cables, circuit boards and typewriters from the sixties and seventies to create sneakers.

Another artist disassembles smartphones to create a constellation projector. She projects the forgotten constellations in the universe that individuals can no longer see because of light pollution. While recycling used electronics effectively decreases the environmental impacts of e-waste, initially preventing the waste is more sustainable.

Prevent E-Waste Production Before You Recycle Electronics

Consumers can reduce e-waste production by repairing damaged devices instead of replacing them. They may also challenge the urge to upgrade outdated electronics by using them while they still work. Finally, individuals can increase a device’s longevity by placing it in a protective case, keeping it clean and avoiding overcharging. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.