Americans dump hundreds of millions of electronic devices each year as they rush to adopt the latest technology. Less than 13% get recycled, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an advocacy group in San Francisco. The rest end up in landfills.
Environmentalists worry because electronic gear contains toxic substances that could leach into the soil or pollute the air if incinerated. A tube TV, for example, contains as much as 8 pounds of lead. Flat-panels have mercury.
The California Integrated Waste Management Board is a good clearinghouse for reusing or recycling gadgets.
After years of lobbying by environmental groups, some companies have begun to reclaim and recycle their old products. Dell Inc. will take back any of its offerings and pay for the shipping. Apple Inc. will take back old iPods and toss in a 10% discount toward a new model. Sony Corp. has set up a nationwide network of recycling centers .
If your equipment still works, try selling, swapping or donating it. Freecycle helps you swap or give away items. EBay Inc. lets you trade old technology for credit on PayPal, its online payment system.
Cellphones on average are traded in every year or so. CollectiveGood, Eco-Cell and other organizations help you resell or recycle them (erase private information first).
For some devices, the most toxic component is the battery, which can contain cadmium, mercury and other heavy metals. Rechargable batteries can be taken to recycling facilities found through Call2Recycle. Earth911 lets you enter your ZIP Code to find sites that will accept spent disposables.