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.

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There are quite a few Web sites that let you donate electronics for a good cause as well. For example, the Wireless Foundation runs the Call to Protect program in which donated cell phones help survivors of domestic violence. In some cases, the cell phones are refurbished and given to domestic violence survivors so that they can quickly dial 911 if they are threatened in any way. In other cases, the cell phones are sold, and the proceeds are given to agencies that fight domestic violence or provide shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Similarly, the group Recycle for Breast Cancer accepts a wide variety of electronics goods, including PCs, cell phones and pagers, ink cartridges, printers and their components, handhelds, digital cameras, routers, phones, MP3 players and more. They then sell them to recyclers and donate the money to help fight breast cancer. You'll be sent a shipping label so that you can ship the electronics to them for free.

Recycle that junk

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Selling or donating your electronics is always preferable to recycling, not least because it's not always clear what happens to electronics slated for recycling. A 2005 study by Greenpeace International found that much of the electronics waste collected for recycling in the U.S. ends up overseas, particularly in India and China, where it pollutes their local environment instead of ours.

Still, if you can't sell or donate your electronics, recycling is your best alternative. But before you choose a recycler, do some investigating to be sure it's on the up and up. The Electronic Industries Alliance has a comprehensive list of questions for recyclers that will help you determine if your devices will be handled properly.

Now that you know what to ask, where do you go?

A good place to start is with your local town or city. Many have electronics recycling programs, where you can either drop off the electronics or else leave them curbside. In some instances -- if you have a large monitor, for example -- you may have to purchase a special sticker for $10 to $20 to have it picked up.

Many electronics stores have special recycling programs, where you can drop off your old electronics and have them recycled. In some instances, proceeds from the cash they get from recycling are donated to good causes.

For example, Staples stores have a joint program with the Sierra Club called CollectiveGood in which Staples stores accept used cell phones, then donates a portion of the money gained from recycling to the Sierra Club. If you don't live near a Staples, you can get a free postal service mailing label online. You can also bring computers, monitors, laptops, printers and similar equipment to any Staples store and drop it off to be recycled. If it's a large piece of equipment, you might have to pay a $10 fee to have it recycled. Staples also accepts toner cartridges.

Many electronics manufacturers will recycle their used equipment for free -- and they sometimes take electronic goods from other manufacturers as well. For example, Dell will take back any Dell product for free. You fill out a form, get a shipping label and send the goods on their way. In addition, if you buy a new Dell computer, Dell will take back your old PC and monitor for free, no matter the brand.

Similarly, Apple will recycle an old computer from any manufacturer for free when you buy a new Apple computer. With Hewlett-Packard's recycling program, you can recycle printers, scanners, fax machines, computers, monitors and handheld devices from any manufacturer, not just HP. But you'll have to pay from $13 to $34 to do it.

If you've got a smaller device, Apple will recycle any iPod or cell phone for free. And Nokia will also take back cell phones from any manufacturer.

Finally, for an excellent site that has plenty of information and links about recycling old electronics, go to eBay's Rethink Initiative site. Particularly useful are the links to manufacturer sites and various organizations that recycle electronics.

There. With your back room absent of electronics junk and your conscience clear, you can get back to playing with your shiny new toys.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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