recycling

How To Properly Recycle Cell Phones, Computers and Other E-Waste

Say you just bought a new computer — hooray! But before you can celebrate, you have to get rid of the old one, and whatever you do, don’t throw it in the trash. Here’s a guide for how to properly recycle computers and other e-waste.

Do you know how to dispose of your hazardous electronic waste, aka e-waste, properly? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Most Americans don’t even know what e-waste is, let alone know how to correctly discard it. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of which types of electronics can and can't go in your big blue recycling bin.

More From NBCLX

4 Ways You and Your Cell Phone Can Help Save the Planet

5 Ways You Can Have an Environmentally Friendly Home for the Holidays

Cell Phones

Yes, your cell phone is recyclable. But isn’t recyclable at the curbside. Frank Calderone of the Miami-Dade Department of Solid Waste says you should avoid throwing your old phone in those blue bins because it will just end up in a recycling center that isn’t equipped to recycle electronics.

So should you put it in the regular black trash bin? Absolutely not, Calderone said. E-waste in those bins just ends up in a landfill, where metal components can leak toxic chemicals into nearby water supplies.

Instead, Caldrone suggests using Call2Recycle, an organization dedicated to recycling old phones.

“They have drop boxes all over in different retail locations across the country,” he said.

Big-box stores like Staples and Best Buy also have bins inside some locations that you can throw your old device in for free.

Computers

Computers are a little trickier. At some Best Buy locations, you can drop off your laptop to be recycled for free. For a $30 fee, they’ll take your monitor. Other companies are also clamoring to take your old computer. Why?

“Some of these devices have precious metals inside,” said Cesar Pineda, a repair associate at Homeboy Electronics Recycling in Los Angeles.

The chip, circuit board and monitor on your computer contain actual gold, silver and copper. In fact, the world loses $57 billion in precious metals every year when these electronics end up in landfills, according to a report from the United Nations.

That’s why social enterprises like Homeboy Electronics Recycling try to refurbish computers whenever possible. Most centers will require you to drop off your device, but some will pick it up from your home for free.

Worried about your data? Look for recycling centers with an R2 certification. That means they're classified as a “responsible recycler” who will wipe hard drives of sensitive information.

One of the dirtiest environmental polluter in the world is in your home. In fact, there's a good chance you're looking at it right now. It's your cell phone. Here's everything you need to know about how to upgrade your phone without killing the planet.

TVs

Similar to computers, you can drop off small TVs at a Best Buy location for free recycling — but the keyword here is “small,” as Best Buy only accepts TVs smaller than 50 inches.

For bigger TVs, your best bet is to go to your local jurisdiction’s recycling or waste agency’s website. For example, California has calrecycle.org, which lets you find recycling centers across the state.

Printers

Both Staples and Best Buy offer free printer recycling. All you have to do is drop it off. But keep in mind, that these retailers have limits for how many devices customers can drop off each day.

The great part about recycling printers properly is that you can even make money from it. Office Depot offers customers $2 for every ink cartridge recycled, as the store saves money by refilling these used cartridges with new ink.

What about phone chargers, smart watches, teleportation devices and whatever else Silicon Valley will develop next? When in doubt, a good place to start is searching online for “free electronics recycling center near me.” If you live in a big city, chances are your local jurisdiction operates an e-waste recycling center somewhere in the area.