Getting new electronics? What you should do with your old ones


Mia Taylor

Mia Taylor

Blog author Mia Taylor

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with two decades of reporting experience. News organizations she has worked for as a staff member or contributor include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Westways Magazine, Vacation Agent Magazine, the San Diego Union-Tribune and The Boston Globe. She has an M.A. in Journalism and Media Studies and was a member of a team of reporters who received a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2011.

Published November 25, 2019 | 3 min read

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Updated Oct. 13, 2020:

Electronic devices are ubiquitous. Everywhere you turn someone is staring into a smartphone or working on a laptop.

When new versions of these gadgets are released, there’s often a dash to buy the latest technology. The pandemic has exacerbated that trend: Virtual learning and remote working has driven a laptop shortage, as suppliers struggle to keep up with demand.

All these electronics also come at a cost. The world generates as much as 50 million tons of electronic and electrical waste every year. And only 20% of that waste is being properly recycled.

Before you head out to purchase the next trendy gadget, think about how to get rid of your leftover electronics.

Why it matters

When electronic waste makes its way to a landfill, it contaminates the soil and groundwater, harming food supply systems and water sources, according to a report from the United Nations.

This waste is on track to reach 120 million tons per year by 2050. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

If it still works, donate it

Your unwanted or outdated smartphone or computer could be someone else’s, as long as it’s in working order.

“You've upgraded to a new device, but your old one might be an upgrade to someone else,” said Steve Foley, hardware technician and CEO of Bulk Memory Cards. “If it still works, donate it to Goodwill.”

Donating your electronics to any sort of charitable organization is a good option. Goodwill specifically has established a partnership with Dell’s Reconnect, which allows for easy and responsible disposing of household electronic waste. You can bring everything from computers to monitors, keyboards, hard drives and printers to Goodwill. Even unwanted cables and cords are accepted.

Contact your local school district to see if they are accepting laptop donations to help with virtual learning. Organizations like Comp-U-Dopt, which connects students with old laptops, is also accepting electronic or monetary donations.

Broken electronics? Get it fixed for free at a Repair Cafe.

Sell it on an online marketplace

For those hoping to make a little money, there are numerous ways to sell your old electronics. Consider an online marketplace like eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

“While they may be old and useless to you, someone else may find them to be exactly what they are looking for and will pay good money for it,” said Jason David, CEO of tech publication Software Portal.

Here's how to monetize your old stuff.

Consider recycling

If you can’t donate your old electronics and don’t have a buyer, the responsible option to recycle.

“Don't just throw them in the recycle bin, though. Your average recycling center isn't equipped to handle electronics,” said David. “Instead, look for electronics recycling centers. More advanced recycling centers as well as some electronic retailers will be able to take your old electronics and make sure they’re repurposed and don't end up in a landfill.”

Look for a R2-certified electronic waste facility when recycling, said Mike Satter, president of OceanTech, a company that assists large organizations nationwide with technology disposition.

“The Responsible Recycling certification is the industry-wide standard for controlling the disposal of electronic waste in a sustainable manner,” he said. “R2 certification is a set of best practices for the electronic waste industry facilitated by the U.S. EPA and recognized worldwide. This includes a zero landfill and zero export policy.”

Check out our interview with the founder of Terracycle, a company that recycles unusable items.

Image: Adam Birkett