Consumer electronics, a broad category that includes TVs, computers, audio devices, phones and other related devices, currently constitutes nearly 2% of the municipal solid waste stream and is steadily rising at a rate of 8% per year. According to the EPA, of the roughly 2.25 million tons of used and unwanted electronics each year, 18% is collected for recycling and roughly 82% winds up in landfills.
These are unfortunate statistics given the many useful and eco-friendly alternatives for disposing of your old electronics — not to mention tax breaks for consumers. We’ve highlighted a few of these options below, along with information about preparing your unwanted goods for donation.
What to Do Before Donation
Don’t wait. If you’re no longer using a device, donate it as soon as you can. The value of consumer electronics declines at a fast pace. A computer that’s three years old, for instance, can be refurbished and used by students; a computer that’s six years old will most likely be recycled for parts.
Clear the hard drive. This is essential for maintaining your privacy. Not sure how to clear your computer’s hard drive? Check out this video guide at PC World. If you’re a Mac user, take a look at this guide from Hivelogic.
Include related materials. If you’re donating a computer, include any manuals, monitors, keyboards, connection cables, software, etc. you have that you no longer need.
Where to Donate
Many companies have recycling programs for used and unwanted electronics. Several have partnered with charitable organizations; we’ve highlighted several below.
Since 2004, Dell and Goodwill have collaborated to collect more than 96 million pounds of electronics and have recently expanded the program to over 1,900 Goodwill locations. Simply take your unwanted devices and related equipment to a participating store or drop-off site. Goodwill accepts a wide array of items in any condition — even broken monitor glass is accepted as long as it’s sealed and properly labeled. Goodwill will refurbish or recycle your materials to benefit local communities. You can locate participating Goodwill locations here.
2. The Wireless Foundation
The Wireless Foundation’s CALL to PROTECT program accepts used phones to help end family violence. With the help of ReCellular, Inc., phones are refurbished and sold or recycled, with one hundred percent of the net proceeds going to grants for national organizations combatting domestic abuse. You can mail in your phone or drop it off at a local donation site. Click here to find out more.
Students Recycling Used Technology (StRUT) is a program that provides schools with reusable technology equipment in California, Arizona, Georgia, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Washington. Students develop the skills they need for a career in technology by refurbishing the donated materials. In addition, schools gain trained technicians to help with IT needs and consumer electronics waste is reduced. You can find out more about how to donate your old computers, monitors, printers and other items from the linked sites above.
Based in southern California, Komputers 4 Kids strives to bridge the gap in technology access between children of higher and lower income families. The charity will accept nearly any electronic device that is not a household appliance. Learn more here.
If you’d like to make a charitable contribution to a non-profit that doesn’t have a consumer electronics recycling program, eBay’s Giving Works program may be the perfect solution. You can auction your used goods on eBay and donate 10-100% of the final sale price to the organization of your choice. You can visit the Giving Works page to find out more.
If you’re not particularly keen on any of the options above, you might also want to check out TechSoup. Its search engine helps pair donors with consumer electronics recyclers and charitable programs in the U.S. and Canada. Additionally, if you have any unused electronics you would like to donate, you may want to consider reaching out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which provides new computers, MP3 players and gaming consoles to entertain children while they receive or recover from treatment.
The next time you think about tossing your old MP3 player or computer monitor in the trash can, we hope you’ll stop and consider a donation to one of the programs listed above.