This month’s Global Recycling Day (March 18) urges broader awareness of the need to recycle wherever possible. While plastic, paper, and glass products are familiar sources, the stakes for electronic waste are higher.
Devices tossed in a landfill can impact environmental and human health by releasing toxins like lead, mercury, chloride, and cadmium into the soil and polluting ground water. Expectant mothers exposed to toxic e-waste can experience stillbirth or premature births, according to the World Health Organization, while children can experience breathing problems or increased risk of chronic diseases later in life. Fortunately, as a consumer, you have a number of options to help prevent that, including donating, recycling, and even repurposing your old devices.
If you have a drawer of old smartphones, a pile of outdated laptops, or even an old toaster at home that you just don’t know what to do with, here are some ways to safely recycle and reuse.
Donate devices for someone else to use
A used cell phone, laptop, or other smart device can be a lifeline for a newly arrived refugee looking for housing and work, someone who’s moved into a domestic violence shelter, or a child without access to their own digital devices at school or home.
Donating these types of devices is more pressing these days, says Sally Tran, marketing and events coordinator with the Canada-based Electronic Recycling Association (ERA), since the high cost of goods combined with production and shipping delays means fewer companies are retiring older devices and donating them to organizations like hers.
“We encourage people to think about the life cycle of the phone,” Tran says, “Instead of sending it to landfill or having it sit in a drawer, give it to somebody that needs it. It may be old to you, but it’s new to someone else.”
Before donating a device, be sure to transfer and delete any personal information to protect your privacy. In the US and Canada, the ERA has warehouses for device drop off, a mail-in program, or you can schedule a pickup, and they do their own data wipe after receiving a device.
Computers with Causes refurbishes and upgrades donated laptops, tablets, and other gadgets before donating them to youth centers, returning military members, and schools. World Computer Exchange accepts used smartphones, digital projectors, and webcams, which it donates to communities and schools in places like Puerto Rico and Africa. Recono.me collects, repairs, and redeploys devices to schools and consumers in the UK where, for every phone in use, four sit unused. Big Sky Recycling recycles smartphones and donates to environmental, social, and veterans causes.