Your drawer full of old tech could have a new life — or start a fire. Here’s how to handle it.
If your home is anything like mine, there’s a forlorn drawer somewhere that’s full of old batteries, zip-ties, cables and gadgets you haven’t touched in years.
That stuff might look like junk, but don’t be fooled: Some of it is potential e-waste, and the last thing you should do is toss it in the trash.Help Desk: Technology coverage that makes tech work for youArrowRight
Many of your old phones and tablets are packed with components containing rare metals that are difficult to find and pull out of the ground. Once those components wind up in the landfill, there’s no easy way to recover them, so the limited supply we already have shrinks even further. Other kinds of e-waste, such as rechargeable batteries, often contain chemicals that could pose problems for the environment or human health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And gadgets that contain nonremovable batteries could start a fire if they, say, get crushed in a compactor.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisement
The world generated 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste — comprising laptops, smartphones, electric toothbrushes, air conditioners and much more — in 2019, according to the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership, an organization founded by the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations University and others to track the growth of the problem. Less than a quarter of those castoff products were verifiably recycled. The rest, the report says, likely wound up being tossed into the trash or “exported as secondhand products or e-waste” to countries so they can decide on how to deal with it.
Managing the growing e-waste problem will take serious effort from tech companies and the governments that regulate them. But there are some important ways you can help, too — here are a few ways to repurpose and recycle some of the tech taking up space in your life.
Help Desk: Tell us what you do with your old devices
Rather than letting your old tech languish, consider finding a way to re-use it. Here are a few options that could give those gadgets a new lease on life, sorted by device type.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisement
Study: World’s pile of electronic waste grows ever higher
If your old gadgets run too slow for comfort, barely hold a charge or are in some way damaged, they might be past the point of being useful again. In that case, it’s time to consider recycling them. Just remember: Most old tech products, such as cameras, flip phones, mp3 players and more, shouldn’t go in the recycle bin any more than they should go in the trash. Instead, your quest to recycle responsibly should start here.
Got questions about what you can and can't recycle? Let the Help Desk know
This is where things can get tricky, and a lot depends on what kind of batteries you’re trying to get rid of.
Because of what’s inside them, rechargeable batteries should never go in the trash — instead, they should always be taken to a facility where they can be handled responsibly. That’s also true of devices with rechargeable batteries that can’t be removed, like many modern smartphones.AdvertisementStory continues below advertisement
Meanwhile, many municipalities allow you to toss single-use AAs and AAAs directly in the trash, but you may have other options available to you.
Figuring out exactly what those options are can be a little daunting, so here’s our advice: check out Call2Recycle.org. This organization offers a handy tool that lets you find places to drop off rechargeable batteries for recycling, and will even show stores or facilities that accept single-use batteries if that’s something your town supports. Earth 911, which we mentioned earlier, is also a great resource for finding local facilities and businesses that handle rechargeable and single-use batteries. And you can use both to find places where you can drop off old phones, whether they have removable batteries or not.