Happy Earth Day! Here's what you should know about recycling your old gadgets

- select the contributor at the end of the page -
When it comes to getting rid of our old gadgets, recycling isn't always the first option that comes to mind. Maybe that's because we don't go through phones and laptops quite as quickly as grocery bags (though it certainly feels like it at times). Or perhaps it's because it's not quite as convenient as recycling paper and plastic. In any case, it needs to become a priority, especially since the average US household had 28 distinct electronics devices as of 2013, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. In honor of Earth Day, we reached out to the EPA about why it's so vital to recycle our tech, and how we can get better at doing it.

What you should know

Recycling electronics has big benefits

There's so much value in recycling your electronics, namely the fact that they can often be refurbished, reducing the need to mine for the materials recovered.

Here's the EPA:

For every million cell phones recycled, we can recover: 35,247 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 71 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.  These figures represent value, but also a huge mineral extraction that can be avoided through recycling.

(For more information on recycled cell phones, head here.)

It's safe and it's easy

Sure, recycling your old phone may not be quite as simple as walking out the backdoor and throwing it in the little blue bin, but let's be honest, it's not that hard either. Some organizations have programs where you can even send your old phone or tablet in the mail, and they'll handle the rest. Other companies will offer you an in-store discount for turning in your old tech. Perhaps one of the best ways to get rid of your old gear is to donate it. Bottom line: You have options.

Here's the EPA:

It's important that consumers and businesses know that it is easy and safe to donate unwanted electronics. There are thousands of drop-off sites around the country as well as one-time events held by states and municipalities. Donating used electronics can help schools, non-profit organizations and families in need. Find out where you can donate your unwanted, but working equipment.

It eliminates waste

That's an obvious one, for sure, but just take a look at the numbers below.

Here's the EPA:

In 2012, we estimate that 3.4 million tons of selected consumer electronics were generated, of which 1,000,000 tons were collected for recycling. These most recent figures show we have now reached a 29.2% recycling rate for electronics, up from 19.6% in 2010.

Not all recycling is equal

If you've ever seen the contents of your beloved little recycling bin end up in the garbage truck, you've already experienced this one. Unfortunately, recycling isn't as normal as it should be yet, and plenty of places get away with lying about the whole darn thing. Before you drop your old gadgets off at any old place, make sure it's certified.

Here's the EPA:

EPA encourages customers to choose certified electronics recyclers. Electronics recyclers become certified by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third-party auditor that they meet specific standards to safely recycle and manage electronics. Currently two accredited certification standards exist: the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and the e-Stewards® standards. These certification programs are based on strong environmental standards which maximize reuse and recycling, minimize exposure to human health or the environment, ensure safe management of materials by downstream handlers, and require destruction of all data on used electronics.

What you should do

Recycle responsibly

We've already learned that it's essential to know where our used electronics end up. Thankfully, there are plenty of places that now meet these standards, and it's a cinch locating the one that's closest to you.

Here's the EPA:

Locate Certified electronics recyclers have demonstrated through audits and other means that they meet specific high environmental standards and safely manage used electronics. Once certified, the recycler is held to the particular standard by continual oversight from the independent accredited certifying body. There are now over 600 certified electronics recyclers and refurbishers, with facilities in 44 states and 17 countries around the world. To see a map of all the certified recyclers, please click here.

Support smart businesses

You know those programs at your local Best Buy, Staples and other electronics-focused stores that encourage you to recycle your old phones on site? Turns out it's helping quite a bit.

Here's the EPA:

In 2014, EPA recognized several organizations for outstanding performance in the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge ... Our participants include Best Buy Co., Inc., Dell Inc., LG Electronics USA, Inc., Panasonic Corporation of North America, Samsung Electronics, Sprint, Staples, Inc., and Sony Electronics Inc. Together these eight participants collected over 22% percent of the total recovered electronics in 2012. All of the participants met the Challenge requirements and several went above and beyond and were recognized with EPA Champion Awards.

Buy responsibly

You're already a pro at researching the specs on Apple's latest iPhone and Samsung's upcoming Galaxy. So why not take it a step further and do a little digging on how your next smartphone or tablet purchase impacts the environment?

Here's the EPA:

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is the leading resource for finding electronic products that reduce environmental impact-and potentially energy costs. EPEAT covers the most products from the broadest range of manufacturers and is the only registry that combines comprehensive criteria for design, production, energy use, and recycling with ongoing independent verification of manufacture claims … Anyone can access EPEAT, which offers easy-to-use features like head-to-head product comparison and search by manufacture or geography. In 2012, more than 114 million EPEAT registered products were sold around the world.

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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.