The average American household now has about 25 connected devices, including laptops, smartphones, tablets, video streaming devices, fitness trackers, gaming consoles, and voice assistants. Add to that all of the other electronic must-haves around the house, such as Instant Pots, air fryers, kids’ toys, and air purifiers, along with standards like refrigerators, toasters, TVs, and stereos, and the picture is clear: Families today have more electronic devices in their homes than ever before, which means they’re also creating an unprecedented amount of electronic waste.
When these devices and appliances break or get replaced, they often end up in the trash. Globally, electronic waste in landfills is a major and escalating problem, with a record-setting 53.6 million metric tons generated in 2019, up 20% from 2010. That number is likely to reach 74 million metric tons by 2030, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor, a collaborative of organizations including the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
“We live in a world where consumers are constantly changing their electronic devices for higher quality products,” says Patrick Gibbs, HP’s recycling manager for North America. “We need to be responsible about what’s happening to the old material.”
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If you have a drawer of old smartphones, a pile of outdated laptops, or even an old toaster at home that you just don’t know what to do with, here are some ways to safely recycle and reuse.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.”