Downturn or no downturn, it's nice to upgrade your tech gadgets now and again, especially when they are so old that your colleagues are looking at you sideways. But once you've bought -- or been given -- that great new digital camera, or smartphone, or laptop, what do you do with the old one?
You know you shouldn't just throw it in the garbage -- the environmental hazards of simply discarding electronics have been well documented. But many of us haven't the vaguest idea how to dispose of the stuff safely.
The result? Piles of old tech gear gathering dust in basements and garages until somebody in the household just gives up and drags it all to the local dump.
Back in December 2007, Preston Gralla's "Out with the old: What to do with your unwanted tech gear" detailed various ways to sell, donate and recycle gadgets and computing equipment, including several online services. Since he wrote that piece, even more options have become available for tech owners who want to get rid of their older devices in a convenient, environmentally friendly and, if possible, financially advantageous way.
As we all know, however, the life span of a lot of Web services can be fleeting -- and a lot of new ones have appeared in the last year. So, in honor of Earth Day, here's an update on what you can do with your old computers, displays, digital cameras, mobile phones, game consoles and other tech devices.
Recycle it online for money or for free
These days, one of the simplest ways to get rid of your old electronic gear is to find a company that will buy it back -- or, if your device is too old or unpopular to be resold, that will recycle it for you.
It's simple: You either find your device -- or the category your device belongs to -- in the site's database. You fill out a form describing the item's condition and how much of the original product is missing. (Do you still have the power cord? The CD with the driver? The manual?) Based on that, you get an estimate on how much the site will pay for the device (if anything). You send it in; the site's staff looks it over and, if necessary, adjusts the payment amount or declines to pay for it. (For that reason, it's wise to check the site's return policy before you send your device.)
You get a check, a gift card for a popular retail outlet or payment to a charity; the site either resells the device or sends it off to be broken down and recycled.
There are now several sites that offer these services; which site you choose will depend on what types of products they accept, what types of payment they make and how easy it is to send them your devices (most provide prepaid labels, and at least one actually sends you a box).
To try these out, I gathered a small number of my own gadgets as test products: an HP Photosmart 812 digital camera, which went on sale in 2002; a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 digital camera, a more recent device that went on the market in the spring of 2008; and an Asus Eee PC 4G, the original Eee PC netbook, which first shipped in November 2007.
Gazelle (formerly known as Second Rotation) calls itself "the nation's largest reCommerce company" and certainly has an impressively well-organized and easy-to-navigate site. It accepts a wide range of devices, including digital cameras, external drives, camcorders, laptops, LCDs and satellite radios, among others.
It offered me $106 for my Panasonic Lumix camera but nothing for the legacy HP camera. There was no specific listing for my Asus Eee PC netbook, but after entering some specs I was offered $68.
Payment is via PayPal, check or Amazon gift card. It pays for shipping -- in many cases, it even sends you a box -- and you can donate your proceeds directly to charity if you want.
NextWorth's motto is "Turn your unused into opportunity." It allows you to trade in your iPods, iPhones, video games, game consoles, cameras, BlackBerries and GPS devices for store credit at retail outlets such as Target, Amazon or J&R. You can either walk into the store and drop off your item, or mail it in and get the check or gift card mailed to you.
The list of products that NextWorth actually pays for, though, seemed somewhat limited. For example, neither HP nor Panasonic was in NextWorth's database of digital camera vendors during my testing. If it doesn't have your device model listed, NextWorth does offer to give you a personalized quote and either give you cash back or (if it isn't worth purchasing) recycle your item for free.