Don’t Be Duped! 6 Ways to Recycle Your Electronics for Real on Earth Day (and Every Day)

Did you know that some of the materials used to make your favorite tech equipment can wreak havoc on the human body?

Electronics contain heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, and also toxic chemicals like hexavalent chromium and brominated flame retardants. When discarded in dumps, the poisons end up in people’s bodies through ground water and contaminated air. The effects can be devastating: intellectual impairment, organ failure, reproductive and hormonal issues, cancer.

Unfortunately, dropping off your old gear at a place with a recycling sign isn’t enough to make sure the toxins inside won’t end up hurting someone. As much as 80% of “recycled electronics” isn’t actually recycled at all. It’s collected by fake recyclers, and much of it is shipped off to toxic digital cemeteries in developing countries. Dumping of electronics is a huge and growing health and environmental problem.

The numbers are staggering, really. In the US alone, we discard more than 41 million computers a year — that’s about 112,000 computers a day. And that’s not counting the monitors, which add up to about 30 million annually. Add TVs, cellphones, hard drives, games … you get the picture. Worldwide, the estimate is 40 million tons of discarded electronics a year.

So what can you do personally? First, collect these items rather than throw them away: computers, monitors, computer peripherals, TVs, cellphones, DVD players, stereo equipment, video cameras, power supplies, wireless devices, cables, hard drives, keyboards, printers, fax machines, gaming systems, tabletop kitchen appliances, electronic toys (like remote controlled cars) and power tools.

Then, get rid of them responsibly in one of these six ways:

1. For business equipment, look for a recycler that’s certified by e-Stewards, a third-party, nonprofit program run by the Basel Action Network. Certified recyclers tear down electronics to their core elements, recycling every possible component in an environment that’s safe for workers.

2. Check out trade-in programs, either online or in-person, like those at RadioShack and Target (in partnership with NextWorth). You’ll get a gift card in return that you can use for anything in the store, including new gadgets.

3. Contact Nextworth directly. It buys and recycles used gadgets, games and more.

4. If you’re a Leapfrog client, call us at 404-870-2122 to arrange for pick-up of your old business electronics. We use Creative Recycling, a certified recycling system.

5. Find a “triple bottom line” program like Recycletronics at the Tommy Nobis Center in Atlanta. It’s a business run by a nonprofit that provides jobs for people with disabilities who do most of the actual recycling. You also get a tax deduction for your drop-offs.

6. Look for innovative approaches designed to make it easier than ever to recycle and to be rewarded for it, too. For example, ecoATM is a self-service kiosk that gives you cash back for your small electronics, just like a coin-counting machine.

Want to learn more? Check out Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes greener electronics and responsible recycling in the electronics industry, or, a company that provides recycling information. And from all of us here at Leapfrog, thanks for caring about our planet and the people who live here — and happy Earth Day!