How to recycle your phone, PC, and other tech gear

Recycling is mandatory in many states. Here's how to choose among the many ways to sell, recycle, or give away all your unused or unusable gadgets

There are few things tech lovers enjoy more than a shiny new gadget or computer: the latest iPad or Nexus 7 tablet, a great new smartphone, a featherlight ultrabook. But once you've bought that great new gear, what do you do with the old stuff?

The worst thing you can do is to simply throw it in the trash. Electronic equipment is often filled with heavy metals and hazardous chemicals, posing serious environmental and health hazards.

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Not only is tossing it away with the rest of your garbage dangerous, but depending on where you live, it may be illegal as well. As of this writing, 25 states have passed laws governing the disposal of electronic waste (or e-waste).

What should you do? Don't fret. Getting rid of old electronics in an environmentally friendly way is easier than you think. In fact, it may even be good for your pocketbook, because you may be able to get some ready cash for your electronics trash.

We've written before about how to recycle your tech gear, but things change fast when it comes to ridding yourself of unwanted electronics. To begin with, you might want to get basic information. A good source is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which offers recycling information as well as places where you can recycle. And then check out the following resources. They can help you responsibly get rid of old electronics, and along the way possibly get some cash or donate to a good cause.

Check your local community

One of the easiest ways to recycle your electronics is also the closest to you -- in your local community. Many municipal governments run recycling programs in order to keep toxics out of landfills. Some municipalities require you to pay a fee and/or prepare the devices in a particular way (for example, place them in a specific type of bin or bag); others let you just put out the device along with the trash. Typically, the recycling programs are run by your town or city's Department of Public Works or similar department.

For example, where I live in Cambridge, Mass., there are several ways to recycle electronics. Cell phones, batteries and various electronic devices can be brought to the city's recycling center, and computers and monitors can be left out with the trash, where they will be picked up for recycling. Screens larger than 20 inches left out with the trash require the purchase of a $25 sticker; computers and smaller monitors are free.

It's a good idea to check with your state's environmental protection website to see what the laws are governing the disposal of e-waste. Many state governments are notorious for doing a poor job of providing much help online, though, so you can check the National Center for Electronics Recycling for a state-by-state guide to recycling laws and information. The United States Department of Environmental Protection has a similar page as well that is worth checking out. The EPA also has a page that helps in finding local electronics recyclers. And a website run by 1-800-recycling.com also offers state-by-state information for finding recyclers -- not just of electronics, but almost anything.

There may also be private recyclers near where you live which will accept or even pay for electronics to recycle. One problem with that, though, is that it's difficult for you to know whether they will recycle the electronics responsibly. A good place to find one is through e-Stewards, which sets high standards for electronics recyclers and certifies those that meet those standards.

Before you choose a local recycler, ask questions to see whether it meets appropriate standards, such as ensuring that all personal data is destroyed and following best management practices. The Telecommunications Industry Association has a list of questions to ask. You won't be able to check whether the answers are accurate, of course, but it should give you some idea of the company's practices.

If you're looking to recycle batteries and cell phones, call2recycle is a good bet. Head to its search page to find local places that recycle, such as electronics retailers, wireless stores, departments of public works and hardware stores.

Recycling through retailers

An excellent place to recycle is at electronics retailers. Many have comprehensive recycling programs (often dictated by state law) that let you bring your electronics to their retail locations. For the most part, the stores will accept products whether or not they were purchased there, and will recycle them for free. However, it's always a good idea to check a retailer's policy online before you go.

Best Buy, for example, accepts computers, printers, peripherals, TVs, DVD players, computer monitors, audio and video cables, cell phones and more. In some instances, you'll be able to trade in old electronics for a Best Buy gift card.

Staples also will accept electronics to recycle. Depending on what you're recycling, you may be able to trade it in for a Staples gift card.

At Office Depot, you can buy an electronics-recycling box ($5, $10 or $15, depending on its size), fill it with electronics, and bring it to the store.

Radio Shack has an electronics trade-in program that you can use either online or in-store. If the device that you want to trade in has no value, Radio Shack will still accept it and recycle it.

Recycling through manufacturers

You can also recycle old electronics through manufacturers. Dell, for example, has several electronics recycling programs. A good bet is Dell Reconnect, which lets you take your electronics -- any kind, not just Dell's -- to certain local Goodwill stores to be either refurbished and sold, or else recycled. You can also recycle any Dell product for free and have it picked up where you live or work. You print out a shipping label, package up the product, and FedEx will pick it up, or you can bring it to a FedEx Center. In addition, if you buy a new Dell computer, Dell will take back your old PC and monitor for free, no matter the brand.

Apple will recycle computers and displays from any manufacturer, not just from Apple. Call 877-712-2405 to get a free prepaid shipping label. Pack up the equipment and it will be picked up and recycled. Apple will also give you an Apple gift card for turning in some Apple equipment and even some PCs. In addition, if you want to recycle a non-Apple display or computer, Apple contracts with WeRecycle to do it. Call the same number as for recycling Apple products.

HP has partnered with Staples and FedEx to recycle old electronics. You can drop off HP equipment at a FedEx office to be recycled for free, but you'll first have to print out a free voucher. HP also has various programs for trading in electronics or returning them for cash.

Sony has a program in which you can bring your Sony product to a nearby recycler. No mail-in options are available.

Toshiba offers several ways to recycle electronics, including a mail-in program for any Toshiba laptop or monitor.

Other manufacturers that have recycling programs include: Acer, Asus, Gateway, Lenovo, and Samsung.

If you want to recycle your mobile phone, most major vendors and carriers offer recycling programs, including: AT&T, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Verizon Wireless.

The one exception to this laudable trend may be T-Mobile, which deserves criticism for what is either a bait-and-switch for people interested in recycling phones -- or simply an inability to keep its site current. T-Mobile has a page on its site that highlights its overall "greenness" and appears to link to ways to recycle your phone, to offer advice on how to go green, and to learn about T-Mobile's work to provide after-school activities for children in a program called Huddle Up.

However, when I clicked the link that says it will provide information about how to recycle your phone, I was sent to a page that tries to enlist support to get better T-Mobile wireless coverage in local communities. When I clicked the link to learn more about going green, I got an error page. And when I clicked the Huddle Up link, I was sent to a page dated January 2010 that described the T-Mobile Invitational National High School Basketball Tournament.

T-Mobile does one thing right: It says you can bring a T-Mobile phone to a T-Mobile store to be recycled.

Donate your electronics to a good cause

Re-use is even better than recycling. And there's no better way to make sure that your electronics will be re-used is to donate them to a non-profit organization.

The Cristina Foundation provides an easy way to do that. The foundation helps connect people who want to donate technology with non-profits, schools or public agency organizations that can use it. Head to its non-profit locator, type in your ZIP code, and you'll get a list of non-profits near you. Included are the equipment they accept, along with details about the non-profit itself. Choose a group, and you'll be able to start the donation process online.

Another worthy group, the World Computer Exchange, accepts working computers, monitors, hard drives, cell phones, printers, network equipment and more.

Sell your stuff

There's a chance that your electronics can make you a bit of cash (beyond the usual suspects of Craigslist and eBay). Typically, when you go to sites that purchase old gadgets, you fill out a form describing what you want to sell and the shape it's in. You then get an offer. If you like the offer, you ship the device to the site and they inspect it to make sure it matches what you described. And then -- you get money for it.

To find out what these sites will accept, I tried to sell them a flawless Wi-Fi iPad 2 with 16GB of memory, and a flawless Motorola Droid X2.

BuyMyTronics.com

This site buys a variety of electronics, but it's a bit confusing to use, because it's not clear what devices it will buy. The items it lists include Apple laptops, GPS devices, e-readers, Apple displays, iPods, Apple accessories, digital cameras, wireless cards, PDAs (remember them?) and iPhones. In fact, though, when you explore the site, you'll find that it buys more than that. So your best bet is to type what you want to sell in the search box and see if BuyMyTronics.com will buy it. It offered $250 for the iPad 2 and $63 for the Droid X2.

Consumer Electronics Recycling

You can sell a limited number of smartphones, cell phones, iPods and PDAs here -- it buys only Apple, Palm and RIM equipment, and not every model. If the site doesn't buy your device, you can donate it instead, but you'll have to pay for shipping.

EcoNew

Recycle through this site and you get a gift card from Sam's Club or Nex Navy Exchange, or a prepaid Visa card. Select which you want, choose your device, answer a few simple questions about its state, and you'll be told how much you can get for it. For the iPad, it offered $209, and for the Droid X2, it offered $43.

Gazelle

This site specializes in buying Apple gear, although you can also sell a variety of mobile phones from other manufacturers, including BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Nokia and others. Select the product you want to sell and its condition, and the site makes an offer. Payment is via an Amazon gift card, a check or PayPal. For the iPad 2, I got an offer of $230, and the Droid X2 got an offer of $63.

Guzu

This site works like most of the others -- tell it what you want to sell, describe the condition it's in, get an offer, send it in. It offered $245 for the iPad 2 -- more than Gazelle but less than NextWorth -- but would not buy the Droid X2. You can get paid via PayPal or by check.

NextWorth

At this site, you sell your electronics and receive the money as a gift card for Target or J&R. The prices are comparable to what Gazelle offers -- for example, an iPad 2 for $252.15 and $61 for a Droid X2. The site asks more questions about what you're selling (for example, if your iPad has been engraved, the price drops by $40) than some of the competitors.

uSell

uSell will buy mobile phones, cameras, MP3 players, tablets, game consoles and e-readers. It works differently than the other buying sites -- rather than buying the electronics from you, it acts as a broker. Tell the site what you want to sell, and it searches through a network of electronics buyers and shows you the top five offers. Shipping is free. The method of payment will vary according to the buyer, with most typically offering to pay using PayPal or check. The top buyer for the iPad 2 offered $251.90, with one offer as low as $150. As for the Droid X2, the top offer was $60.50, with one offer as low as $35.

Recycle or give it away online

If your device is too old to sell or even donate, and it's not convenient to carry it to a recycler yourself, there are online services that can help.

Freecycle

Think of this as an online swap meet. Sign up for a local Freecycle Yahoo group near you, post what you've got to give away, and if anyone's interested, they'll let you know, and you can make arrangements for doing so. It also works in reverse -- join a group and see if someone is giving something away that you want.

GreenDisk

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