Human Journey

How to Recycle Your E-Junk

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Yesterday I opened an oft-ignored cabinet in my apartment and cringed: My personal junk graveyard was overflowing. Old remote controls, cell phone chargers, computer cords, and anything else I’d feel guilty about tossing in the trash were all tangled in a disorganized mess, waiting to be recycled.

Of course, many of my fellow Americans don’t opt for recycling their end-of-life electronics—TVs, video equipment, phones, and all their accoutrements make up almost 2 percent of cities’ solid waste stream, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 40 million computers may become obsolete in a single year, and only about 18 percent are recycled, according to the agency’s latest 2007 statistics.

Even so, the electronics-recycling rate has improved a bit in recent years, probably because recycling programs have become more mainstream.

To find a responsible electronics recycler, first check out the National Center for Electronics Recycling.

The center maintains a list of computer companies that have national mailback programs. The company will give you a prepaid mailing label, and then you send your old computer equipment back to them. (The EPA also has an e-cycling Web site with another list of electronic companies that will recycle their products.)

Other electronics purveyors have instore programs that simplify the recycling process. Office Depot, for instance, offers a tech recycling service that gives you a box to stuff with as many old electronics as possible for shipping to a recycling service. The service costs between $5 and $15. Staples has a similar service, for $10, that ships equipment to Eco International. Even the U.S. Postal Service encourages e-cycling: their Free and Green program allows a consumer to discard small electronics—like PDAs, digital cameras, MP3 players—without having to pay for postage.

But the most egregious e-waste is arguably cell phones: Only 10 percent are disposed of properly each year, according to the EPA. That’s why the agency started a Plug-in to E-cycling campaign, in partnership with major cell phone manufacturers, to make recycling phones an easy call. I liked this site—though most of the events have passed for 2009 already—that lists specific partner events in different parts of the country where you can get rid of your phone.

You could even start up your own cell phone collection box in your workplace, courtesy of Earthworks’ Recycle my Cell Phone campaign.

You can also find a local recycling service that will take your e-junk. I put my zip code into the search bar on MyGreenElectronics‘ Web site and found 17 recycling facilities within a 13-mile radius of my house. You can also try E-cycling Central or Earth 911.

Lastly, to stay tuned into the latest e-cycling news, download EPA’s e-cycling podcasts to hear the latest on ditching your electronics.

Now, back to clearing out my electronics graveyard!

Christine Dell’Amore

Related:

tn_Christine DellAmore_03.jpg–Read other Green Guide tips on recycling your e-waste.

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.

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