In 2005, used or unwanted electronics amounted to approximately 1.9 to 2.2 million tons. Of that, a whopping 1.5 to 1.9 million tons were chucked into landfills, meaning that only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But it doesn't have to be that way.
Opportunities and resources for electronics recycling are often closer than you think. Most big box stores, for example, where many of us get our electronics in the first place, have some recycling initiatives, and several are even quite extensive. Here's the scoop on five of the biggest.
Apple's iPod recycling program offers free recycling of any iPod or cell phone. After filling out an online form, you'll get a prepaid mailing label to attach to your package, or you can request a free mailer. For U.S. customers, Apple also offers free recycling of old computers, displays, and peripherals?cables, mice, keyboards, speakers, printers, scanners, hard drives, etc.?when you purchase a new Mac or monitor. Whether you buy a computer or monitor online or at an Apple store, the company will send you an e-mail with a shipping code. Pack up your old gear and drop it off at any FedEx location and a-recycling it goes.
Best Buy has a pretty comprehensive recycling program that covers everything from TVs to refrigerators. You can drop off old cellphones, rechargeable batteries, and printer cartridges at no cost at the handy kiosks inside all of its U.S. stores. When you buy a cellphone at Best Buy, the company gives you a free, postage-paid envelope to mail old phones to ReCellular, their partner for reuse and/or recycling. If your electronics still have some good use left in them, you can trade 'em in and get some money back; just go to the online trade-in estimator, fill out the details and condition of your device, and it'll give you an instant quote; about a week after your gadget arrives at the trade-in center, you'll get a Best Buy gift card for your trade. And, if you buy a large appliance or TV, Best Buy will deliver it and haul away your existing unit, then evaluate it (and its parts) for recycling or reuse. The company also offers grants to help increase the recycling opportunities available in communities across the country. Ranging from $500 to $1,500 per event, the grants depend on the size of and scope of the program, which can be hosted by nonprofit organizations, cities, counties, or public-private partnerships.
Circuit City also uses a trade-in program as an incentive to recycle your aging (but still functioning) tech devices. The company uses EZtradein.com as a hub for this service, taking all kinds of home and portable electronics in exchange for a Circuit City gift card (when your electronics are still worth something); it's similar to the process at Best Buy, where you give the details to their trade-in calculator, it gives you a quote and then a gift card when your gadget arrives at their trade-in facility. Circuit City is also a partner in the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's (RBRC's) Call2Recycle program, which recycles rechargeable batteries and old cell phones; Circuit City also offer collection bags for their online customers to make it easier to recycle the phone when you're done with it. One caveat: if you still have a boxy CRT computer monitor, Circuit City won't take them because of their weight.
Office Depot's recycling program is perhaps the simplest and easiest of all the big boxes. The company offers boxes of three different sizes that you can load up with a variety of tech gadgets and drop off at any Office Depot store; the small, medium and large boxes go for $5, $10 and $15, respectively. The devices are then sent off to a recycling plant, where they are separated, sorted and recycled. Office Depot also provides free in-store recycling for cell phones, rechargeable batteries and ink & toner cartridges. And, as a nice bonus, Office Depot will open its first green store in Austin, Texas this summer, featuring energy-efficient lighting and water fixtures, and recycled and other green building materials.
No matter the brand or where the equipment was purchased, Staples' recycling program covers everything from desktops, laptops and printers to peripherals like keyboards, mice and speakers; each piece of large equipment (e.g. computer, monitor, printer) will cost you $10. You can take equipment to a Staples customer-service desk, and the company sends it to a recycler that disassembles the equipment into its component parts. For personal electronics such as cellphones, PDAs, pagers, digital cameras, chargers, and batteries, Staples has recycling partners, including RBRC's Call2Recycle. The company will also give you prepaid shipping materials to send in old printer cartridges. And, in the do-gooding category, Staples is also a member of the EPA's WasteWise program, which helps companies implement solid and industrial waste reduction measures.
None of these are perfect solutions, of course, and e-waste and electronics recycling itself is often dangerous for those who physically take the electronics apart, and potentially very dangerous to the planet. Still, between them, these programs offer the opportunity to insure that just about all of your old electronics don't end up in the landfill where they don't belong.
Difficulty level: Easy