The dizzying pace of technological advances fuels an equally voracious appetite for the newest electronic features and the latest gadgets.
That means old electronic devices and even household appliances—anything that needs a circuit board or power to operate—can become considered obsolete more quickly. When that happens, people toss them out.
Some electronic cast-offs though—like cell phones—are loaded with precious metals that can be salvaged and reused.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered from every million smart phones recycled. This reduces the amount of raw materials mined to make new phones.
But many electronic devices also contain hazardous stuff like lead, mercury, beryllium and cadmium. Although e-waste, short for electronic waste, is a small fraction of what goes into landfills, the U.S. EPA estimates that 40 percent of lead and 70 percent of other toxics found there come from it.
That’s why Oregon’s Electronics Recycling Law has banned the trashing of computers, monitors and televisions since 2010.
Patrick Morgan of Metro’s Recycling Information Center regularly fields calls from folks asking what to do with their used tech. Here are a few of his tips for safely getting rid of it.
4 common types of electronic and electrical waste. And what you can do with them.
1. Screens and things: Televisions, desktop computers (and their accessories like printers, keyboards and mice), monitors, laptops and tablets.
Morgan says that TVs and computers contribute the most toxicity to landfills. “Luckily those also are very easy to get rid of safely and properly because of Oregon E-Cycles,” he says. This statewide program is funded by manufacturers. You can take up to seven items accepted under the program for free recycling at a participating collection site near you.
2. Handheld electronics: Cell phones and video games.
Americans toss out millions of smart phones each year. And those phones are valuable—in fact, there are numerous ways to sell your used phone for cash.
“Also most mobile phone vendors, whether the big box stores or the corner Sprint store, will have buyback programs or at least a drop-off recycling program,” Morgan says. “That’s a good, safe way to do it too because you have data on your phone that they will usually take care of.”
Nonprofit organizations are another option. Look for ones that will scrub your phone before selling it for funding or passing it along to someone in need.
3. Small household gadgets: Alarm clocks, speakers, shredders, blenders, microwaves, the list goes on and on.
“If they are in good working condition, donation can be a great option,” Morgan says. A quick Google search should reveal dozens of organizations that will take them off your hands.
If your items no longer work, a variety of recycling facilities will take them. And some retailers, including Best Buy, offer free in-store recycling programs.
4. Large household appliances: Dishwashers, stoves, washing machines, etc.
Many retail stores will haul off and recycle major appliances for free or for a small fee when you buy replacement appliances from them. And some charitable organizations accepting large appliances, like Habitat for Humanity, offer residential pick-up services for a small fee.
You also can take appliances to a metal recycler or to one of two Metro facilities.
“Most options will be free unless it is a refrigerator or other coolant-running appliance,” Morgan says, “Those will always have a fee.” Although the EPA has phased out all production of the ozone-depleting Freon, if you bought your refrigerator, freezer or air conditioner before 2010, it may contain the chemical coolant. It needs to be disposed of safely, and so do newer appliances, which contain other hazardous materials.
Still have questions about easy and affordable ways recycle or dispose of your electronic waste? Ask Metro.
There’s no bin for batteries at home
Batteries power all kinds of electronic gadgets. And some of them are even embedded within the devices. Out of sight out of mind, right?
But it’s important to be mindful of batteries when thinking about e-waste. While they come in countless shapes and forms, no batteries belong in the garbage or the recycling bins.
Some are rechargeable and some aren’t. They are made of lithium, lithium-ion, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, alkaline, carbon zinc, mercury, and silver oxide—to name a few.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell from the outside of a battery exactly what you have,” Morgan says. “They make AA batteries that are alkaline. They make AA batteries that are lithium.” And the print can be miniscule.
The biggest problem with batteries is that they can start fires under the right conditions. And they have started fires—at garbage facilities and recycling sorting facilities where there’s an abundance of flammable material.
So batteries should be kept separate from your garbage and recycling and disposed of safely.
“Save them up with other hazardous waste,” advises Morgan. “Take them into one of our hazardous waste collection events or one of our hazardous waste facilities at Metro Central or Metro South.”
Some big-box stores, like Home Depot, will take your rechargeable batteries for free. And Batteries Plus Blubs will take any battery for a small fee. But, it’s always best to call ahead to confirm details.
Find a battery recycler near you