Even though many electronic devices are going wireless, power cords are still everywhere in our lives. Those wireless devices need to be charged somehow, and power cords are the dominant way to do that. In addition, many common household devices (from your television to your coffee maker) still have power cords permanently attached to them.
How can you recycle power cords once you are done with them? You may be surprised to learn that power cords are easy to recycle. The majority of them contain copper, a very valuable metal, which almost any metal scrap yard should recycle.
But unless you have power cords in large quantities, you may have a hard time taking them straight to a metal recycler. Your best bet is to seek out a place that recycles electronic devices and give your power cords to them. Read on for more details.
What are power cords made of?
If you cut a power cord in half, you would see the inside is made up of wire coated with a rubbery substance. The wire is likely copper, which is a great electrical conductor. The wire could also be aluminum or another metal.
The coating is known as insulation. It can be either plastic or rubber. The insulation keeps the wires from delivering an electric shock to you and everything else around you. It also protects the thin, fragile wires from damage.
The electricity needed to power all your gadgets travels to the two- or three-pronged plug at one end of the power cord, goes up through the copper wire and is delivered to your device through a second plug that attaches to your computer.
It is important not to use power cords that are frayed, cut open or otherwise damaged. Power cords should be stored inside unless they are specifically rated for outdoor use (some extension cords and those for outdoor equipment meet this qualification). Cords can create a tripping hazard if extended across the floor, so be careful where you use them. If a power cord feels unusually hot, unplug it immediately. If the problem persists, recycle it and replace it with a new one.
And yes, all the pieces of your power cord – the copper, insulation and plugs – are recyclable if you can get them to the right place.
How to recycle power cords
Chances are you cannot recycle power cords through your curbside recycling program (unless your community has some type of electronics pick-up program). That means you need to find another place to take them.
When you recycle any electronic gear you own, make sure you recycle the power cord at the same time. That is the best way to ensure it will get to a qualified recycler. When you drop off your old computer at your community’s e-waste recycling center, make sure you take all the power cords with you (as well as peripheral devices, such as keyboards and mice, which also have power cords attached). When you return your iPhone to Apple through its recycling program
, send the power cord along with it. When you take your old DVD or BluRay player to a special electronic waste collection event, bundle up all your unwanted power cords and turn them in at the same time.
If you end up with power cords that are missing an associated device, your local e-waste recycling program should still take them. Many states now have permanent facilities to recycle electronic waste. Check with your waste hauler or county solid waste management department to find out where the closest one is. Chances are your community’s e-waste facility is co-located with the household hazardous waste program, although this is not always the case.
Businesses, nonprofits and schools sometimes hold special e-waste collection events instead of (or in addition to) permanent local government electronic waste collection programs. Watch for these events as well, and turn in your power cords there.
If you have a lot of power cords for some reason (maybe your company just ditched a bunch of electronic equipment, or your school replaced all its computers), you may be able to sell them or give them to a scrap metal dealership. Power cords typically end up at scrap metal yards, because these dealers can extract the copper and sell it to their vendors. Call the scrap dealer nearest you to see if they buy or take power cords. Find out if they have a minimum weight or volume.
How to reuse power cords
Another option is to donate orphaned power cords to an electronics reuse organization. Most larger cities now have nonprofits that specialize in taking electronic waste and repairing it. Many of these groups use their electronics repair programs as a way to provide job training to low-income youth or people with disabilities. When the electronic devices are fixed, these organizations sell them or donate them to people in need.
Any place that sells computers, televisions and other electronics is likely to carry power cords as part of their inventory. They may also be able to pair orphaned power cords with devices that came without a power cord. And – bonus – you can get a tax write-off for donating your old power cords.
If all else fails, try putting your power cords on Freecycle, Craigslist or a similar site. You never know; someone out there may need the power cord you are offering and be grateful that they can avoid shelling out money for a brand new one.