What to Do With Old Electronics

Mj 618_348_how to sell or recycle your old electronics
Baran Azdemir / Getty Images

You know the drill when it comes to sorting paper, plastic, metal, and cans in specially designated bins you have to drag to the curb. At supermarkets we tote along our own sustainable bags to reduce the reliance on plastic ones. And if you’re not composting kitchen scraps by now, you probably know someone who is. But, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, with the average home containing about 28 electronic devices — from laptops to smartphones to tablets — recycling in a digital world can be a little intimidating.

Here’s our cheat sheet to help with the proper disposal of those first-generation iDevices and that old laptop from college. It will help divert resources away from landfills and, depending on the age of the device, might get you some cash or a gift card in the process.

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Wipe The Memory
Whether you plan to trade in a phone or tablet at the store, sell it privately, or recycle it, clearing out its memory is a smart way to make it harder to get at your personal information. Start by backing any data you want to keep, like contacts, photos, or files onto your laptop. Open each app that stores your personal log-in info stored — things like email, social media sites, cloud-based servers, and log out of each one. Clear the history or data from each of those apps and remove any external memory cards your phone or tablet uses. Now, if you have an Apple device, use the brand’s step-by-step procedure for wiping the slate clean. For an Android OS, follow these directions. One caveat here: If someone really wants your data, they can still recover it this way. The only way to totally protect yourself is to destroy the device, Office Space style.

Sell It
Like a car, you can sell your devices privately or by turning them into a retailer for trade-in towards a newer model. What you can expect back depends on the age of the phone or tablet, its condition related to cracks and water exposure, memory size, and which carrier the device is tethered to at the time. If quick cash is what you’re after, then look into eBay, Craigslist, or kiosks like EcoATM. Mail-in services like Gazelle.com are also an option if you don’t mind waiting a week or more for the money. If you plan on trading up for the latest and greatest device, check with your carrier first to see which deal is available. Don’t expect much for any first-generation devices, though. But while a brick and mortar retailer won’t give you any money for that iPod with the click wheel, they are a good place to start the hunt for a responsible recycling option since most will take back older models.

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Recycle It
Unfortunately, municipalities aren’t set-up to haul away laptops, printers, and gadgets like they can cardboard. But that doesn’t mean recycling electronics is all that difficult either. Your first step should be checking the manufacture’s website to find recycling options. Drop off any Apple product at the store or send a Dell laptop back to the company. If a brand doesn’t accept its products, it usually includes a site location, which you search by zip code, to drop off products, which might include national chains like Staples, Best Buy, or Radio Shack.

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