My vintage desktop computer was going to turn 10 this year. I turned it on occasionally (maybe once or twice a year) to access old files, but trying to do any meaningful work on it tried my patience. It was painfully slow.
Alongside my desktop, I had an ancient flip phone and a new-er smart phone that I didn’t need. Together, the devices—along with their chargers, wires and other accessories—had created a pile of digital trash that took up precious space in our spare room.
When I had a few weeks off around Christmas and New Years I decided to finally figure out what to do with these old electronics.
I kept my old computer for so long because it had information I needed. Most of the files were backed up on an external hard drive but I never took the next step … putting them on my laptop so they’d live in two places in case one device failed.
Backing up data is a crucial first step before selling, donating or recycling electronics. Failing to do this could mean losing all your contacts, photos and files.
Only after all the important information from the device is backed up, is it time to restore the device to the factory settings.
For cell phones, there are usually three steps to restoring the device to the factory settings:
For computers, consider what will happen to the device. If donating, selling or giving away the computer so it can have a second life, reset the hard drive so it can be used again. The computer’s manual will have instructions on how to do that.
If the computer is destined for the recycling center, there are a few options: reset the hard drive or remove and destroy the hard drive (which can be interesting and fun). The latter gives you the opportunity to take your computer apart without needing to worry about damaging it and, once you’ve removed the hard drive, you can take your aggression out on it if you wish. Some people decide to smash them with hammers. If that’s the road you want to take, use safety goggles and be safe!
One of my cell phones was an older Samsung Galaxy in working condition. It had some value so I chose to sell it to the online buyer/reseller Usell. Usell was offering the biggest paycheck and, by selling to them, I didn’t have to deal with listing the device myself on Craigslist or eBay. It was fast and easy. Usell mailed me an envelope that I used to send the phone to them. About a week later, I received a check in the mail.
My other phone—a flip phone circa 2004—was in working condition but had no resale value. When I looked into donating it, I found that organizations that accept electronics donations typically use some of the items for their charitable purpose and sell the electronics they don’t need to recyclers. That money helps fund the charity.
Often, charities focused on supporting victims of violence are seeking cell phones and some take other e-waste too. Each charity has its own guidelines for what they’ll take so it’s a good idea to go online or call the charity to confirm they are accepting what you’d like to give. From my own volunteer experience, I’ve seen how donated items that don’t fit a charity’s needs can redirect limited resources from their mission to trash disposal.
When researching charities that accept electronics, we found the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a local charity in Nashua were willing to take any used cell phone. The National Coalition also accepts other electronics, such as gaming systems and laptops. A local charity in Pittsburgh accepts only gently used phones and prefers smart phones.
Cell phones and computers can often be recycled at the same place. Using the iRecycle app, I found several recyclers nearby that would take my electronics off my hands, including my city’s recycling center and a few national retailers like Best Buy and Staples.
For me, the easiest option was to bring my desktop to Staples, which is down the street from where I live.
When electronics are disposed of improperly, metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium can seep into the land, air and water posing environmental and health risks. When electronics are recycled properly, metals are harvested and reused which reduces the need to mine new materials.
Whether you sell, donate or recycle electronics, you should feel good knowing you’re doing right by the environment.
Another bonus: less stuff and more space at home!