Based on current estimates, consumers will have generated around 57.4 million tons of e-waste by the end of the year. The COVID pandemic is believed to be behind the increase. While people upgraded their phones, tablets, and computers this year, only a little more than 17% is expected to get recycled correctly. Improperly recycled e-waste ends up in landfills where the metals can get into groundwater and soil and cause serious issues decades later. Proper disposal of electronic devices is necessary to protect future generations.

Santa was generous this Christmas, and many new electronics were under the tree. You also leaned towards energy efficiency and upgraded your holiday lights with LED versions. With all of these upgraded electronics, you have old, unneeded phones, tablets, e-readers, video game systems, and computers sitting around. Plus, you have all the electronics in holiday decorations like animated figurines, Christmas lights, and artificial trees and wreaths with built-in LED lights. Before you dispose of all of these electronics, make sure you understand the best practices for recycling e-waste.

Do Your Research to Know Where to Go

The most crucial first step is to research your local regulations. Several states in the USA do not have legislation in place to mandate recycling. In some of the states that do, manufacturers pay the cost of recycling, but there are states where consumers have to pay fees that cover e-waste recycling.

Once you understand your state’s regulations, start looking to see how and where e-waste is collected. It’s uncommon to have recycling firms come to your home for curbside pick-up. Instead, you may need to manage your devices and drive them to a local recycling facility. Alternatively, some retailers like Home Depot, Best Buy, and Staples offer specific e-waste programs where you can drop off your cell phones and batteries at a store.

Before the holidays, look for Christmas light recycling programs. Some of the larger home improvement stores host light recycling programs to make it easy to recycle lights responsibly. It’s a great way to recycle older lights when upgrading to energy-efficient LEDs.

Not everyone lives near a big town or city. What do you do if you’re hours from anyone offering e-waste recycling? Don’t give up hope and throw electronics into your trash can. Some of today’s largest electronics manufacturers have mail-back programs to simplify e-waste recycling. They often cover the cost of postage, so you don’t pay a penny. You just have to find a box.

  • Acer – Acer does accept electronic waste through the mail, but consumers have to live in a qualifying state. If you live in a state with an Acer drop-off location, mail returns are not allowed.
  • Apple – Apple accepts old electronics through two programs. First, go to Apple’s website and get a trade-in value for your device. You get a credit towards a new Apple device if the item has value. If it doesn’t, Apple’s mail-back recycling program allows you to order a postage-paid mailer to send back Apple devices.
  • Dell – Dell recommends recycling usable electronics with Goodwill, but you can mail back old electronics through Dell’s take-back program if you are buying a new Dell system. You have to request your pre-printed FedEx shipping label.
  • Google – Google’s recycling program allows you to mail in your devices using a postage-paid shipping label.
  • HP – HP accepts old electronics through their mail-back program. They use FedEx for free shipping.
  • Microsoft – Microsoft gives you credit for the estimated value for the electronics you return. If the items do not have any value, recycle them for free.
  • Mitsubishi/Panasonic/Sharp/Toshiba/Vizio – These large electronics manufacturers joined forces to create the MRM Takeback Program. It doesn’t cost private consumers anything, but companies do have to pay a fee for recycling business electronics. Their mail-back program uses UPS for shipping.
  • Samsung – Recycle Samsung electronics through the mail using a postage-paid shipping label. You’ll get the shipping label via email once you’ve filled out the form.

Those are all handy ways to recycle electronics, but it takes effort. You have to find packaging materials, print the label or wait for a label to arrive, and get to the post office or other shipping company when they’re open. If your work hours aren’t convenient, it becomes a hassle. What else can you do?

Consider Donating Electronics to a Non-Profit

Check with local military branches to see if they participate in the Cellphones For Soldiers program. There are drop-off centers around the nation. If you have a minimum of 10 old phones to donate, print out a postage-paid label to send them to an R2-certified refurbisher. Encrypt data, do a factory reset, and send them through the mail. The refurbisher restores the phone to like-new condition and donates it to soldiers who need phones while stationed away from their families and friends.

Call local women’s shelters. Some accept phones and electronics that have been reset to factory settings. The phones go to women who’ve gotten out of abusive situations and are starting anew. You can also donate phones to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to be refurbished and sold to help fund programs that help victims of domestic violence.

For Local Drop-Offs, Read the E-Waste Facility’s Guidelines

Before you drop off items at a local facility, read the guidelines. There may be a limit on the number of electronics you can drop off per day. If you drop off more than that amount, you may need to pay an extra fee. If you have to pay a fee, find out if the facility accepts credit or debit cards, as some may only take cash or a personal check.

When recycling items like laptops, smartphones, etc., check to see if the facility wants you to remove batteries or leave them inside the device. If you’re removing the batteries for battery recycling, you should cover the battery terminals with a strip of electrical tape. Batteries that are punctured, corroded, swollen, or damaged cannot be shipped in the mail. You’ll have to find another way to recycle them locally.

Factory Resets Are Not Enough to Delete Private Information

Ask the recycling center what happens with the electronics you recycle. You want to hear that they partner with an ITAD company that destroys data through processes like wiping or shredding hard drives. If you can’t tell, your options are to do it yourself or hire a R2, eStewards, and NAID certified company.

If you’re doing it yourself, a factory reset isn’t enough if there is vital information like SSNs and banking information on those devices. It’s better to encrypt data and then do a factory reset on the phone. For a computer, use software that wipes all data from the hard drive.

Make It Easy On Yourself

What do you do if the mail order take-back program doesn’t work for you? You can always purchase a recycling box from ERI and fill it with unused electronics. Shipping and tracking are covered in the cost, and you have the assurance that your data is wiped and that they’re recycled locally and not shipped overseas.

Would you rather find your nearest recycling facility to recycle your electronics responsibly? Visit Recycle Nation to get a comprehensive list of recycling facilities in your area. Enter your ZIP and the device you’re looking to recycle. The website returns a list of centers that accept e-waste, along with the hours and contact information. You save time and know exactly where to go with your old electronics.