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What’s the right way to get rid of electronics?

Make sure recycling is a top priority for you and your household whenever you’re ready to upgrade or get rid of an old device.

recycle bin

Most people understand that they’re not supposed to throw their old electronics into the garbage. Doing so would potentially cause environmental damage, causing heavy metals to get into the soil, and possibly even local drinking water. On top of that, in a landfill, significant amounts of precious metals like gold and platinum would go to waste – forcing us to mine more of these finite elements from the earth.

The solution is to properly recycle your electronics, but what does that process look like?

The Process for the Consumer

If you’re a consumer interested in recycling your old electronics, you’ll generally follow this process:

Assess. First, it’s a good idea to take a final assessment of the device you’re trying to get rid of. Are you disposing of it because it no longer works correctly? If so, you may be able to repair it and continue using it – instead of buying a new device. Does it work well and was it released in the past few years? If so, you may be able to sell it directly to a refurbishing establishment, who will then fix it up and sell it to another consumer (and give you some money for your trouble). If the device is old, broken, and/or unable to be resold, recycling is your best option.

Wipe. If you’re working with a good recycling institution, they’re going to physically destroy your device, so there shouldn’t be a security risk. Still, it’s wise to wipe your device of all personal data before getting rid of it. Deleting your information manually is an okay start, and doing a full factory reset can make things even more secure. However, even with a factory reset, some of your data may still be present; you’ll need to go a step further, signing out of all your accounts and erasing multiple storage partitions.

Find a responsible recycler. When you’ve cleaned your devices of personal information, your next step will be finding a responsible recycler. Look for a company that specializes in e-Waste recycling and figure out what kind of process they use to recycle devices. This is also a good chance to check out their rates and their reputation – what do other people say after working with this recycler? Are they fully certified and easy to work with?

Once you drop your devices off at a qualified recycler, they’ll be sent through the recycling process.

Electronics Recycling

Most forms of responsible electronics recycling go through a set of stages like these:

Initial collection and transportation. Everything starts with the simple processes of collecting devices and sending them where they need to go. This company may have remote drop-off points or multiple locations where you can sell your devices directly. All the devices that enter the system from these points have to be gathered, sorted, and transported to the actual recycling facility.

Shredding. At this point, devices are usually fed through some kind of machine designed to shred them down to their base components. The outer layers of the device will be totally stripped off, and mechanical equipment will break everything else down into tiny fragments.

Sorting and separating. Then, the fragments from multiple devices will be put through a series of sorting filters. Different elements will be sorted into different containers, each with different destinations. Some materials, like plastic and certain types of metal, can be directly recycled, so they can be used in similar devices in the future. Other materials, like rare and precious metals, may need further processing.

Resale. Depending on the capabilities of the recycler, the components of devices may immediately be used for further processing and recycling. Otherwise, the metals and other raw materials can be sold to other recyclers or manufacturers for further processing. Oftentimes, recyclers can sell the raw materials for more than they initially paid for the devices, covering the costs of breaking them down.

It’s Not Just the Right Thing to Do. It’s the Law.

Responsibly disposing of your electronic devices, when you’re done with them, is the “right” thing to do. It protects the environment, allows us to reuse precious metals, and can even help you make some extra money in the process. But more than that, it’s a legal requirement in most areas; half of all U.S. states have state-level laws making e-waste recycling mandatory, and more states are being added to that list routinely.

Recycling electronic devices isn’t especially difficult or time consuming, but there are still millions of people around the world throwing their electronic devices in the trash when they’re done with them. Make sure recycling is a top priority for you and your household whenever you’re ready to upgrade or get rid of an old device. 

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