NOT a recommended disposal method; Photo by youngthousands via Flickr Creative Commons
Christmas day is nearly upon us, which, for many people, means a new collection of electronic gadgets. And that means figuring out what to do with the old devices. There is always the good old fashioned and green give-it-to-a-friend-who-needs-it option. And the return-the-new-stuff-and-donate-the-money-to-charity-since-you-old-stuff-works-perfectly-fine option which is admittedly less realistic. Last year we created a guide for navigating Take-Back, Buy-Back and Recycling programs. We've updated that list for you, and added in a new option -- renting out your old gear for money. Check out everything you want to know about handling old devices as new ones are unwrapped.
Photo via johndan via Flickr Creative Commons
A buy-back program essentially pays you for your old device. In order for you to be able to utilize this option, though, your gadget has to be usable and still have a decent amount of life in it. Typically it works like this:
A company will have an online site through which you input information about your device, such as the model, age, condition, and so on. If they feel they'll be able to refurbish and resell it, they'll offer you a price. If you accept the price, you are usually given a mailing label to ship the item to the company. They'll then double check that the device is in the condition you said it was in, and then cut you a check. Their next step is to refurbish and resell the device for a profit. If your device turns out to be too far past it's prime and not what you indicated online, they'll skip sending you the check and recycle it for you.
Not all buy-back programs work exactly like this (some offer money in the form of store gift cards or credit, rather than cash, or trade-in value for new electronics), but generally speaking, it's what you can expect. Some, however, can offer you a guaranteed buy-back price when you purchase your item. This is how TechForward has designed their company. Rather than wait until you want to upgrade your device, you can sign up when you purchase an item for a guaranteed time in the future when you'll sell it back for a certain amount. This kind of program does encourage excessive consumerism, but many people upgrade their devices so often anyway that it makes sense for them to go this route and be sure of a little pocket change next time they upgrade.
Essentially, buy-back programs are great for resellable gadgets that you don't want to sell yourself. You'd probably make more money on a device by selling it yourself on Craigslist or eBay, but you'd also have the hassle of having to sell it. Buy-back programs are for people who want ditching a device to be quick and easy.
Photo via D'Arcy Norman via Flickr Creative Commons
Take-back programs are different from buy-back in that you don't get cash. You simply get to recycle your electronic device, usually for free. And the programs are through major stores and manufacturers of the devices. The store or manufacturer will accept the product back, and will refurbish and resell, or recycle it. Take-back programs aren't necessarily all that robust or easily visible. But they exist with most manufacturers, and whether or not a take-back program is offered should be a question you ask of the store or manufacturer when you buy a device.
Some of the more well-implemented take-back programs come from computer manufacturers. On the other hand, television manufacturers are notoriously bad at implementing take-back programs. This is especially disconcerting since televisions are going through a wave of innovations, from Skype-enabled TVs to built-in Blu-ray, and even 3D. As people upgrade to these newer versions, manufacturers have got to step up and create efficient take-back programs.
The difference between take-back programs and recycling is that take-backs are more often free, though recycling programs are becoming increasingly less expensive or even free as well.
Take-Back Resources to Try Out:
Electronics TakeBack Coalition
Companies with Take-Back Programs:
Stores with Take-back Programs:
Photo via takomabibelot via Flickr Creative Commons
Recycling is the obvious solution for broken-down electronics. However, recycling has its pitfalls to be avoided. The major concern is where your electronics actually end up. There is a growing awareness about e-waste dumps, which is when recyclers ship electronics overseas to developing countries that have no laws or regulations that account for the health and safety of the people dismantling the electronics. When recyclers don't have a way to show their accountability, your electronics might very well end up doing a whole lot of damage to the environment and people, all when you thought you were doing the right thing.
So you need to find a responsible recycler, and luckily there are organizations out there that help you, primarily e-Stewards, that help you find organizations such as Green Citizen who track their electronics all the way through the recycling stream and take accountability seriously.
When trying to find a responsible recycler - either those that accept items for free, such as Reconnect, or that charges a fee, such as Zip Express - the Consumer Reports has gathered three great questions to ask to help you determine if the recycler is trustworthy:
Q1. Which state or local electronics disposal laws do you comply with? [Acceptable answer would be that they comply with state and local electronics disposal regulations; to find out about E-waste legislation in your area, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency's e-cycling map (scroll down to see state listings)].
Q2. Do you send any electronic waste overseas? If so, where? [Acceptable answer would be that if they do send it overseas, they send it to developed countries including those in the European Union, and to facilities with environmental management systems in place.]
Q3. Where do you send your hazardous waste? [Acceptable answer would be that they send it to a facility that specializes in hazardous waste.]
-More specifically, where do you send your high value circuit boards (those that contain precious metals found in computer processors)? [Acceptable answer would be that circuit boards are sent to a facility that recovers metals or repairs boards.]
-Where do you send your low-value circuit boards (those that contain little or no precious metals found in monitors and TVs)? [Acceptable answer would be that these circuit boards are sent to a facility that repairs boards or disposes of them in an environmentally responsible way.]
Recycling is not always free. Often there's a fee you have to pay to properly dispose of an item. That's a deterrent for many people, which leads to electronics being left at curbside, rather than put in the recycling stream. However, there are usually local events and free e-cycling days, as well as free drop off locations. Check out your city's and state's government website to see about recycling options available to you. Also, be sure to read up on electronics recycling so that you know your options:
Consumer Guides for E-Cycling After the Holiday
How do e-waste recycling laws work?
What happens to your discarded old computer?
Where can I recycle my old electronics?
Renting Out Your Old Electronics
Of course, a final option is not getting rid of your old gadgets at all, but rather making some money off of them by renting them out. There are a couple interesting rental programs that show how the system works. Rentalic is just such an example -- community members sign up and can post what they own and what their rental rate is, and those who need the item can request to rent it.
There might be more location-specific programs or groups in your area, so do a quick search and see what your options are. It's certainly a handy way to make the most from your old devices.
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