Your Complete Guide to Electronics Recycling: Why and How to

If you have ever seen a picture of a landfill, regardless of the location, you were probably surprised by the amount of TVs, computer monitors, and other large electronic devices. Instead of throwing them in the trash, we could look into electronics recycling and see what we can do about it.

While the electronics recycling industry in the U.S. is doing a great job, there’s so much more that could be done. In 2011, for example the U.S. processed between 3 and 4 million tons of used and end-of-life electronics equipment. Over 70 percent of the gadgets were recycled.

What is Electronics Recycling

Electronic recycling – also known computer recycling or e-waste recycling – is the disassembly and collection of raw components of waste electronics for repurposing.

The electronic recycling industry usually recovers materials like steel, plastic, aluminum, copper, and small amounts of gold and silver. Recyclers can use all of these to manufacture new products. Electronics recycling agents usually repair, refurbish and resell recycled electronics as used products.

For the purpose of this article, we will be discussing the recycling of “small electronics,” which refers to items like smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, video game consoles, MP3 players, and computer and TV accessories.

Why Recycle Electronic Products

It’s easy to ignore the problem of electronics in landfills; after all, how many computer monitors or laptops can you throw away in a year? However, the problem becomes humongous when each of the 319 million people living in the U.S. thinks like that.

We must keep in mind that making electronic products requires valuable resources and materials, including plastics, metals, and glass. All of these require human energy and mining natural resources. By recycling – or donating – consumer electronics, you can help conserve our limited resources and avoid air and water pollution.

Donating Electronics for Recycling

Before you consider recycling your electronics, make sure they are no longer functioning. If they are functional however (maybe you just want an upgrade) and can be reused, donate them to a verified reuse organization. Check the World Computer Exchange website to see if there are any such programs in your area.

How to Recycle Electronic Products

Both donating and recycling electronics can help conserve our natural resources and materials. However, before you blindly trust any so-called recycler, it is important you make sure they are disposing of or recycling your items safely and correctly.

Environmental Hazards

Electronics recycling provides the important benefit of keeping some of the more dangerous materials found in TVs, smartphones and computers out of our environment. We’re talking about mercury, lead and other heavy metals that can cause harm to the environment if they are mismanaged or disposed of improperly.

Recycling Options

When you’re ready to get rid of your small electronics, check for an e-Steward near you that can help you find a responsible recycling solution. At the same time, you can contact BestBuy, Staples, or Dell to see if they will accept your electronic devices for recycling.

Before Donating or Recycling Your Used Electronics

If you’re thinking of donating your computer or laptop, consider upgrading the software or hardware instead of simply purchasing a brand new product. However, if you do go ahead with the donation, make sure you delete all personal information from the donated electronics. Also, be aware that batteries may need to be recycled separately.

Does It Cost Money to Recycle Small Electronics

The answer is usually no. There are plenty retailers, manufacturers, and recyclers who offer initiatives for free electronics recycling. Most of them will allow drop-offs, mail-ins or will even ensure curbside pick-ups. If your items are still in good conditions, you can donate them for free.

Facts about Electronics Recycling

The following surprising facts about e-waste may convince you to change your perspective on electronics recycling. We need to protect the environment, but we also have to stop wasting resources. We are now basically tossing cash in landfills.

  • The U.S. is the global leader in the production of annual e-waste. Americans throw away more than 9.4 million tons of electronics every year.
  • E-waste amounts to 2 percent of U.S.’ trash in landfills; however, it represents 70 percent of overall toxic waste.
  • Smartphones and other small electronics contain high amounts of gold and silver and other precious metals. For a clearer perspective, Americans throw away phones containing over $60 million in precious metals annually.
  • Many items labeled as “e-waste” are not waste at all. Instead, they are parts of or whole electronic equipment, which means we can either reuse or recycle them for material collection.
  • The U.S. currently recycles only 12.5 percent of e-waste each year.
  • According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, manufacturing one computer and one monitor requires a lot of raw material. It includes 530 lbs of fossil fuel, 48 lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water. Buy a laptop instead.
  • The EPA called e-waste “the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America.”
  • Some of the electronic items considered hazardous are: LCD desktop monitors, Televisions and computer monitors that contain cathode ray tubes, Portable DVD players with LCD screens LCD televisions, and Plasma televisions.

Statistics about Global E-waste

  • Many major retailers (see BestBuy) will accept e-waste for recycling, even though you might not have bought the product from said retailer. Other stores which accept drop-offs are Staples, Verizon, and Dell. Call ahead of time to confirm they will accept the kind of products you want to recycle.
  • In 2014, 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was mismanaged. Instead of properly recycling these items, organizations ship and dumped it in developing countries, creating a dumping problem in those respective countries.
  • Not all e-waste recyclers were created equal. The companies that simply export the waste to developing countries do not care about monitoring the recycling process. They also don’t care is the e-waste disposal pose a risk for the health of the workers. Instead, these businesses have residents disassemble waste, exposing them to toxic materials.
  • There are more mobile and smart phones right now in the world than people living on Earth. According to the reported number of active SIM cards, there are more than 7.2 billion mobile devices in use. The planet’s population is less than 7.2 billion. Mobile devices have a five times higher growth rate than the population.


Electronic devices threaten to drown us if we do not become more serious about electronics recycling. Consider your options – simply throwing your e-waste in the trash can is not one of them. Donate or recycle to help the environment.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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