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What the Heck Is E-Waste, and How Do You Get Rid of It?

Margaret Heidenry

urbancow/iStock

Admit it: Hiding in your home’s junk drawer is an ancient flip phone that composed your very first text. Deep in the bowels of your hall closet is your long-dormant, 2002-era PC clone. And down in your basement? You’ve likely stashed a clunky TV plus a DVD/VHS player (for that sweet VHS collection you’re also hoarding).

This stuff is called e-waste, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in America. But only 25% of the estimated 2.37 million tons of electronics we’ve chucked so far was properly recycled—which is a dirty shame, because there are valuable materials (hello, gold!) in all those tiny circuits, as well as toxic elements like mercury that seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater. 

All of which means that ethical homeowners should learn the right way to get rid of e-waste. Try these steps in lieu of just chucking your defunct gadgets in the garbage—then pat yourself on the back for doing your small part to clean up the world.

Donate your old electronics

While you might be totally over that clunky desktop from five years ago, it could be a boon to kids or adults in other countries who can’t afford a computer at all. As long as that your old computer still works, donate it to World Computer Exchange. WCE will refurbish it and ship it off to disadvantaged folks around the globe, who will probably Google up a storm once your castoff arrives.

Go gadget shopping in reverse

A great and convenient way to get rid of e-waste for free is to take it back from whence it came. At stores like Best Buy, you can recycle old DVDs, CDs, and cell phones, along with smaller appliances like TVs, computer monitors, and printers.

There’s an app for that

If there’s e-waste you’re not quite sure what to do with (that Bluetooth ear piece, maybe?), download iRecycle. Plug in your location and the kind of trash you need to toss. The app will then give you information on how to do it and where the most convenient disposal center is. 

Sell your old electronics

Want to keep your electronics from ending up in a landfill—while also making some cash? There are a few options.

Quick and easy ways to sell your devices

Register your old phones, tablets, MP3 players, and MacBooks on Gazelle.com. The company will mail you a prepaid box for the device. Once Gazelle receives the item and checks it out, an expert will send you a same-day quote with the option to receive either a check or an Amazon gift card.


If you don’t want to wait for the check from Gazelle.com to arrive, another environmentally friendly way to recycle offers instant gratification. Just visit an ecoATM kiosk at participating stores like Walmart. Simply plug an old smartphone, tablet, or MP3 player into the machine and receive money for it right from the ecoATM’s dispenser. Use whatever you get to fund some digital upgrades to your home.

Older gadgets accepted here

A newly launched electronics trade-in and buy-back service, Unlimited Cellular, is expanding the boundaries of the e-waste industry to favor consumers. The company accepts the widest variety of older wireless telephones, tablets, and other devices, including many that other companies don’t take (a Nokia Lumia will net you $40). Unlimited Cellular also claims to pay, on average, up to 20% more for a typical trade-in than other current buy-back services on the market.

Buy-backs for Apple devices only

If you’ve worshiped solely at the altar of Apple and have a tidy pile of its electronics, check out Itemcycle. This recycling and buy-back company specializes in buying old Apple products, from iPhones to MacBooks and every OS in between. It offers the highest price for these products, pledging to compare other companies’ offers and beat the highest price. 

Apple also has its own buy-back plan, which enables customers to return electrical products in decent condition either in store or online. The tech giant will then make sure that your old item is either recycled responsibly, or repurposed to make a new product.

And for the real dinosaurs…

Face it, you’re going to make precisely $0 selling your pager, 1990s fax machine, or home phone. TerraCycle’s Recycling Program offers a sustainable solution to this growing problem with an E-Waste Zero Waste Box Program. Simply buy a Zero Waste Box (the smallest, at 10 inches by 10 inches by 18 inches, costs $82), collect your outdated junk and ship it to TerraCycle for recycling. Apart from decluttering your digs, you can enjoy the satisfaction of having done at least a small good deed for the environment.

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