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A Consumer’s Guide to Electronic Recycling

Electronics donation and recycling of these items is an effective means of conserving resources and the materials used to make these devices. When you opt to donate or recycle your electronics instead of throwing them away, follow recommended processes to ensure that you are donating or recycling correctly. You’ll also ensure that you are not doing more harm than good with your efforts.

Why Donate or Recycle Electronics?

Electronics are made out of materials and resources such as metals, plastics, and glass. These materials require energy to manufacture or mine. By donating or recycling your electronic devices, you conserve natural resources. You also reduce air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that come from the process of manufacturing new materials.

  • By recycling one million laptops each year, it’s possible to save the amount of energy that would be used by more than 3,500 homes in the United States in a year.
  • Recycling one million cell phones nets 35,000 pounds of copper, 75 pounds of gold, 33 pounds of palladium, and 772 pounds of silver.

Before Donating or Recycling Used Electronics

  • Before you proceed with donation or recycling of a laptop or computer, you might try upgrading software or hardware components, which can extend the life of the machine.
  • Always delete all personal information from electronic devices before disposal.
  • Remove batteries, and explore recycling of the batteries separately.
  • Find a suitable recycling facility in your community.

Where to Donate or Recycle

Many retailers and manufacturers provide options for consumers who wish to donate or recycle their electronics. The Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge is orchestrated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a means of encouraging manufacturers and retailers to send used electronics collected to third-party certified recyclers and refurbishers. The EPA does not endorse any participants in the challenge.

Two Ways to Recycle Your Electronic Waste

Option 1: Participate in a Manufacturer’s Take-Back Program

  1. Research the manufacturer(s) of your waste products to find their website and contact information.
  2. Search their website for information on take-back programs, or call them to find out more. Manufacturers are required to provide recycling information free of charge.

Manufacturers must accept their own brands for recycling. These companies are also required to accept one item of electronic waste of any brand when a customer buys a new product of the same type. For example, if you purchase a new television of one brand and want to recycle your old television of another brand, you can use any acceptance method provided by either manufacturer to recycle the old television.

Option 2: Use an Electronic Waste Collection Site

Find your nearest collection site, then call ahead before you go to make sure the site accepts your item. You may be charged a fee if the site does not have an affiliation with a manufacturer acceptance program.

Electronic Equipment Covered by Law

  • Computers (including desktops, laptops, tablets, and e-readers)
  • Televisions
  • Cathode-ray tubes
  • Computer peripherals (including cords, cables, and wiring, monitors, keyboards, and mice)
  • Fax machines, scanners, and printers (must be designed for use with a computer and weigh less than 100 pounds)
  • Small electronic equipment (including cords, cables, and wiring), such as VCRs, DVRs, portable digital music players, DVD players and projectors (for home use), digital converter boxes, and video game consoles
  • Small-scale servers

Covered electronic equipment does not include motor vehicles or any part thereof, cameras, video cameras, portable or stationary radios, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, ovens, dishwashers, equipment that is part of a larger piece of equipment used in a commercial or industrial setting, security equipment, anti-terrorism equipment, monitoring instruments, control instruments, thermostats, hand-held transceivers, telephones, portable digital assistants, calculators, GPS receivers, any server other than a small-scale server, cash registers or self-checkout systems, stand-alone storage products, commercial medical equipment with cathode-ray tubes, flat-panel display devices, and other medical devices as defined by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Why Recycle Electronics?

It’s estimated that United States consumers discard 400 million pieces of electronic equipment every year. By recycling these items instead of throwing them away, it’s possible to protect both human health and the environment in these ways:

  • Recycling diverts excessive amounts of waste from incinerators and landfills.
  • Recycling helps keep lead, mercury, and cadmium from entering the water, air, and soil.
  • Recycling helps conserve natural resources by reusing materials instead of using new materials.

Manufacturers’ Responsibilities to Consumers

Manufacturers are required to provide free and convenient recycling methods for electronic waste for consumers in their state, though they are not required to have a physical collection location in each community. Collection methods may include:

  • Fixed locations such as stores, outlets, municipal facilities, and nonprofit organizations
  • Mail-in or ship-back programs
  • Collection events in communities
  • Any combination of these methods

Additional Electronic and Consumer Recycling Information