Out with the old: What to do with your unwanted tech gear

Keep it out of the attic by selling, donating or recycling it. Here's how.

Here's the good news: You've gotten nice new shiny toys this holiday season -- a new PC, monitor, iPod, gaming system, printer, cell phone or some other kind of geek gadget.

Here's the bad news: You've now got useless old electronics gear lying around, and you'd prefer that it not sit in your basement, attic or back room for the next several decades.

What to do? You might be tempted to throw it out with the trash. But resist that temptation. Electronics equipment is notoriously dangerous and environmentally unfriendly. It frequently contains hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, including cadmium, lead and mercury. If electronics are simply thrown away, these toxins frequently end up in our water and soil. In addition, depending on where you live, it may be illegal to simply throw them in the trash.


It's easy, though, to get rid of old electronics. No matter where you live, you can sell it, donate it or recycle it. Not only will you be doing the earth some good, you may be able to line your pockets with a little bit of spending money, or help a good cause. In this article, I'll show you how to do it.

By the way, before you recycle your PC or cell phone, make sure to completely remove all your personal data. For details, see our sidebar on wiping your data.

Get cash for your trash


It's easier than you think to sell your used electronics. A good place to start, naturally, is at the world's biggest garage sale, eBay. If your equipment is usable at all, there's a good chance you'll find a buyer on eBay.

(Note that if you haven't sold anything on eBay before, you'll have to register first. As a first-time seller, people may be leery of buying from you, so selling a big-ticket item can be a problem. Selling via Craigslist might be easier.)

Make sure to do your homework before selling -- search eBay to see what similar goods are selling for. When you create your auction, it's a good idea to include a photo, because that's more likely to lead to a sale. So use your digital camera, or cell phone if it's got a built-in camera, to snap a picture.

Also, before selling, find out how much it's going to cost you to ship the goods, either by asking at your local post office or by using the U.S. Postal Service's handy dandy online postage calculator. Then, when you create the auction, make sure you fill out the auction form correctly to say that the buyer pays for shipping, and include the shipping price.

One word of warning here: Beware of scammers, especially if you're selling a cell phone. For some reason (perhaps because they're easy to resell), cell phones seem to attract scammers more than other types of products, at least in my experience. I've sold a number of things on eBay, and never had a problem with scammers until I tried to sell a cell phone. On the first auction, the high bidder was a classic Nigerian scam artist who wanted me to ship the phone before he would pay. I ignored him, put the phone up for auction again, and the same thing happened again. I ended up contacting someone who wasn't the high bidder, offered it to them for their bid price and sold it that way.

Regardless, no matter what you're selling, don't ship the product until the payment to you clears. And for safety's sake, consider putting in your auction that you won't ship outside your home country.

If you'd rather not deal with packing up and shipping your electronics, consider selling them on Craigslist, a more traditional classified ads site, and specify that the buyer has to pick up the goods. As with eBay, including photos helps drive sales on craigslist.

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