Buying New Electronics This Season? Don’t Trash the Old Ones!

Electronics are once again dominating holiday shopping lists this season. In fact, analysts with the Consumer Electronics Association predict shoppers will spend six percent more on electronics this year compared to last – or about 0 per consumer. And for every new laptop, tablet, phone, TV, gaming system and scores of other gadgets, an outdated device likely will be replaced. For those old electronics, the question is, “Now what?”

First off, do not throw replaced electronics in the trash.  Electronic devices are comprised of a range of toxic components that can be harmful to human health and the environment if discarded in the same waste stream as the rest of your household garbage. Trashed electronics, or “e-waste,” contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium, which can leach out of landfills and into groundwater or nearby waterways.  The good news is that there are several alternatives for disposing of your e-waste, including reuse and recycling.

One ideal method that is in keeping with the holiday spirit is to find a local community electronics recycling fund-raiser to properly dispose of your outdated electronics while helping to raise funds for a local organization.  With the current economic climate most nonprofits, schools and other organizations are experiencing harder times. Not only will recycling benefit an organization in need, but the environment as well by diverting the e-waste from the landfill.  Contact your favorite nonprofit or other charitable organization to find an event near you.

Another option is to look into electronics take-back programs. Many electronics retailers, like Best Buy or Staples, will accept your e-waste for free or a small handling fee, regardless of brand or condition. Several manufacturers, too, will take back retired products, although these take-back programs vary in terms of fees and conditions. A quick internet search of your local electronics retailer or manufacturers’ recycling policy will provide instructions for their take-back process.

Many cities’ waste management divisions also have electronics recycling programs, though opportunities differ in size and scope. Some municipalities have designated e-waste collection sites, while others might host periodic events to collect e-waste. Typically municipalities contract with third-party e-waste recyclers that process the collected material on behalf of the city.  Check your city’s website to learn about opportunities to drop off your e-waste or have it collected.

Finally, consumers should look to see if e-waste recycling companies, such as those that contract with cities, have a facility nearby.  These companies usually contract with organizations and businesses to handle large volumes of e-waste, but many welcome materials directly from individuals.  Depending on the company, some accept electronics at their local facility at any time, some have designated days for public drop-off and others host periodic collection events with local partners.

Unfortunately, however, there are some bad seeds in the e-waste recycling industry. Individuals, municipalities and businesses should take several important steps before selecting a recycler, thereby ensuring their e-waste is properly managed. For example, make sure the recycler is either Responsible Recycler (R2) or e-Stewards certified, which is one indicator that the recycler is adhering to environmental best practices.  Also, even if you think your electronic device has been cleared of personal data, be sure the recycler offers data destruction compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to make certain all data is wiped clean.

Lastly, ask with whom a recycler does business. Some recyclers don’t actually handle the recycling of equipment and only collect the material for recycling. Not knowing exactly where your electronics are being recycled could put you—and the environment—at risk. The best recyclers are those that “own the lifecycle,” offering a complete range of remarketing and recycling services internally, thereby eliminating reliance on subcontractors, and thus improving accountability and security.

This holiday season when you are making room for your new electronic devices, remember there are plenty of homes for your old ones, but the garbage is not one of them.

Steve Skurnac is the president of Sims Recycling Solutions (SRS). SRS operates 50 sites all over the world, including 14 facilities across the U.S. and Canada. To find the location nearest you, visit

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