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How to recycle your phone, PC and other tech gear

Now that recycling is mandatory in many states, it's become even easier to sell, recycle or give away your unwanted hardware.

August 8, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - There are few things tech lovers enjoy more than a shiny new gadget or computer: the latest iPad or Nexus 7 tablet, a great new smartphone, a featherlight ultrabook. But once you've bought that great new gear, what do you do with the old stuff?

The worst thing you can do is to simply throw it in the trash. Electronic equipment is often filled with heavy metals and hazardous chemicals, posing serious environmental and health hazards.

Not only is tossing it away with the rest of your garbage dangerous, but depending on where you live, it may be illegal as well. As of this writing, 25 states have passed laws governing the disposal of electronic waste (or e-waste).

What should you do? Don't fret. Getting rid of old electronics in an environmentally friendly way is easier than you think. In fact, it may even be good for your pocketbook, because you may be able to get some ready cash for your electronics trash.

We've written before about how to recycle your tech gear, but things change fast when it comes to ridding yourself of unwanted electronics. To begin with, you might want to get basic information. A good source is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which offers recycling information as well as places where you can recycle.

And then check out the following resources. They can help you responsibly get rid of old electronics, and along the way possibly get some cash or donate to a good cause.

Check your local community

One of the easiest ways to recycle your electronics is also the closest to you -- in your local community. Many municipal governments run recycling programs in order to keep toxics out of landfills. Some municipalities require you to pay a fee and/or prepare the devices in a particular way (for example, place them in a specific type of bin or bag); others let you just put out the device along with the trash. Typically, the recycling programs are run by your town or city's Department of Public Works or similar department.

For example, where I live in Cambridge, Mass., there are several ways to recycle electronics. Cell phones, batteries and various electronic devices can be brought to the city's recycling center, and computers and monitors can be left out with the trash, where they will be picked up for recycling. Screens larger than 20 inches left out with the trash require the purchase of a $25 sticker; computers and smaller monitors are free.

Recycling
1-800-recycling.com offers state-by-state information for finding recyclers.

It's a good idea to check with your state's environmental protection website to see what the laws are governing the disposal of e-waste. Many state governments are notorious for doing a poor job of providing much help online, though, so you can check the National Center for Electronics Recycling for a state-by-state guide to recycling laws and information. The United States Department of Environmental Protection has a similar page as well that is worth checking out. The EPA also has a page that helps in finding local electronics recyclers. And a website run by 1-800-recycling.com also offers state-by-state information for finding recyclers -- not just of electronics, but almost anything.

There may also be private recyclers near where you live which will accept or even pay for electronics to recycle. One problem with that, though, is that it's difficult for you to know whether they will recycle the electronics responsibly. A good place to find one is through e-Stewards, which sets high standards for electronics recyclers and certifies those that meet those standards.

Before you choose a local recycler, ask questions to see whether it meets appropriate standards, such as ensuring that all personal data is destroyed and following best management practices. The Telecommunications Industry Association has a list of questions to ask. You won't be able to check whether the answers are accurate, of course, but it should give you some idea of the company's practices.

If you're looking to recycle batteries and cell phones, call2recycle is a good bet. Head to its search page to find local places that recycle, such as electronics retailers, wireless stores, departments of public works and hardware stores.



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