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How to Repair, Reuse, and Recycle Old Electronics [Avoid Holiday E-Waste]

Holiday gifts and computer upgrade

Nowadays, you should recycle old electronics as part of your yearly holiday traditions. It’s great to have the newest version of your device, but what do you do with the outdated one? This issue has led to a dramatic build-up of e-waste and an upsurge in dangerous battery disposal. We must try to figure out how to responsibly recycle old electronics this holiday season. This means avoiding e-waste in the landfill and safe battery disposal.

Why E-Waste is a Problem

Old computer and e-waste.

Nearly everything has turned into an electronic device these days—watches, cigarettes, scooters, even books! With so many options on the market, there is a drive to constantly upgrade to the newest version. The holiday season highlights this need to upgrade with awesome deals, Black Friday sales, and new products being released. Of course you want to show your loved ones you care by getting them the newest, coolest device.

So, how do you recycle those old electronics? It’s not like you need that outdated phone, laptop, or tablet anymore. Time to get rid of it! Well, you could easily be adding to the ever-growing problem of e-waste. According to a UN report, a whopping 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated globally in 2019. That’s a 21% increase within 5 years and only 17.4% of that was recycled.

Not only is that a lot of wasted recyclable materials, such as gold, silver, copper, and platinum, the majority of those devices likely carry rechargeable batteries. When disposed of improperly, rechargeable batteries carry a high risk of fire or combustion.

mobile phone rechargeable battery explodes and caught on fire due to overheating

If you damage rechargeable batteries by crushing or compacting them, they can quickly overheat. This can start a “thermal runaway” causing them to get up to around 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the introduction of rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries into many mainstream devices, fires in waste and recycling facilities have increased 26% during the years 2016 through 2019.

One more dangerous factor of e-waste in landfills is the exposure of toxins. If incinerated, there are potential air pollutants. If landfilled, there are potential ground and water pollutants from most e-waste.

4 Ways to Repair Electronics for Reuse

Laptop disassembling with screwdriver at repair shop. Engineer fixing broken computer motherboard in order to recycle old electronics

Instead of dumping an old device that doesn’t work properly, consider getting it repaired. Repairing old electronics will help give them a second life.

  1. Find a local repair shop. Although phones and tablets aren’t built to be repaired, numerous devices still have a lot of potential to be rebuilt. This option will cost money, but it’s a good way to ensure your device is completely repaired.
  2. Find a Repair Café. Grassroots groups such as Repair Cafés have been popping up to provide free repairs to help curb e-waste.
  3. Trade services with a fix-it friend. Find a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who is good with fixing electronics and bake them a cake, clean their gutters, take their dog on a walk, or whatever service you can provide in exchange for a repair. Maybe you can even find a student who is learning the trade and wouldn’t mind the extra practice!
  4. Fix it yourself. There are so many YouTube videos and how-to tutorials online that you might be able to do a simple fix yourself. Only do what you’re comfortable doing though.

Once you revive that old device, you can pass it along, donate, or sell it to keep it out of the landfill. Repairing an item is actually a way to recycle those old electronics.

4 Ways to Reuse Devices that Still Work

online donate key on keyboard to encourage recycling old electronics for reuse

If your used devices are still working, the best way to recycle them would be to give them a second life with someone else.

  1. Bring your usable devices to a donation center. Places like Goodwill and Salvation Army take any usable items that could be resold. All you have to do is drop them off. In some cases, they will pick-up from your house if you have a large donation.
  2. Ask around to groups in your community. Your local schools, community centers, domestic abuse women’s centers, homeless youth programs, local refugee organizations, or a variety of other groups around may need functioning electronic devices for the people they service.
  3. Sell your old electronics locally. You can make a little money through a private sale on one of many local resale apps. You control the sale and pick-up/drop-off requirements for sales on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, Offer Up, Let Go, and Craigslist.
  4. Sell your used devices online. There are also several companies, that offer cash for your mailed-in used devices that they will refurbish and resell. Sites such as BuyBackWorld and Gazelle will give you an offer, you mail in your device, then you get paid.

4 Ways to Recycle Old Electronics after You Upgrade

E-waste , recycle old electronics , disassembled smartphone and recycle bin in background

Most devices are likely not accepted in your curbside recycling program. Instead, here are 4 simple ways to recycle old electronics after your holiday upgrades:

  1. Bring a usable device to a retailer take-back program. Best Buy and Staples take back a very extensive list of e-waste. Apple takes back all of it’s old electronic devices too.
  2. Order a mail-in box for your e-waste. TerraCycle and Earth911 offer mail-in boxes that you can fill and send back to recycle e-waste
  3. Look up e-waste drop-off locations near you. Recycle Nation provides a comprehensive look-up tool for local retailers that take various e-waste and other specialty items.
  4. Recycle rechargeable batteries when necessary. Never place rechargeable batteries in your curbside bin or in the trash. You can bring rechargeable batteries to a Call2Recycle box at most Home Depot or Staples stores.

You can always check any item individually using the What Goes Where tool on the Recycle Coach app, or contact your household hazardous waste program.

Avoid Upgrade E-Waste

e-waste in recycling container close-up.

When getting that new iPhone, Kindle, or electric scooter this holiday season, keep in mind what it is replacing. There are so many ways you can avoid the landfill through recycling programs, resale, reuse, repair, or donation. Curb the e-waste issue by thinking responsibly when upgrading. There are so many ways to recycle old electronics instead of putting them in the trash.

If you have devices that are too far beyond reuse, please check how to properly dispose of them. You can search What Goes Where on the Recycle Coach app or check with your local municipality’s disposal rules. And make sure to safely dispose of those rechargeable batteries as well. Most e-waste is not accepted in your curbside bin, but you can recycle almost all old electronics if you bring it to the right spot!

1 Comment

  1. Eli Richardson

    August 20, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    I’m glad you talked about how much e-waste we’re generating and how to reduce it! Recently, my wife and I decided to upgrade our laptops and our home’s desktop computer. We want to get rid of our old technology without causing more contamination, so we’ll be sure to check your tips out. Thanks for the information on outdated electronics and how to dispose of them.

    Reply

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