Computer mouse, iPhone, Xbox controller, iPod, watch, camera, deck of cards, disk, planner.

How to Minimize E-Waste

Decrease your electronic footprint with responsible electronic purchases, use, and recycling.

Impacts of e-waste

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States and across the world. The average American has 24 devices per household, and with the constant release of new products, it’s no surprise that the world generates over 63 million tons of e-waste each year, which outweighs the Great Wall of China.

Electronic gadgets consist of precious resources and materials, such as metals and glass, which necessitate significant energy for extraction and production. In contrast, recycling these materials consumes considerably less energy. The precious metals found in electronic waste can be repurposed for manufacturing new products, thereby diminishing the need for freshly mined or produced materials.

The EPA estimates only about 12.5% of e-waste is recycled. Most tech items contain toxic compounds such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chlorine, bromine, and flame retardants, that, when not disposed of properly, leach into soil and ground water. When incinerated, these chemicals go airborne and created dangerous air pollution. Never throw electronics in the trash.

computer server

Electronic energy requirements

In addition to the impact of physical electronic waste, the energy and resources consumed by these products is significant. One study found consumer electronics responsible for 4-5% of U.S. electricity consumption. 94% of that comes from TVs and computer monitors. Then there’s the data centers, massive internet servers that can consume millions of gallons of water per day and account for 2% of our country’s electricity use.

Between social media posts, digital photo albums, and video streaming–which constitutes 60% of internet traffic, the average household uses 429GB of internet data per month, as opposed to 17GB/month in 2011. Help decrease data center energy consumption by deleting old nonessential files, photos, and emails. I know, way easier said than done. I’m sure I have as much as anyone else.

Read about the carbon footprint of an email.

Tips for Decreasing Your Digital Footprint

Go Green: Make sustainable electronic purchases

First step: stop subscribing to the advertising hype and consider skipping a version upgrade of the latest and greatest. You don’t need always need the newest model of iPhone, or the latest tv technology. Take the time to evaluated if you really need that gadget.

Other tips include:

  • Consider a repair before replacement. You can try to DIY with the help of ifixit, or use a company like ubreakifix. Find more repair locations here.
  • Buy a refurbished model.
  • If possible, choose a gadget with multiple functions rather than multiple gadgets.
  • Consider upgrading the hardware or software for your computer or laptop instead of buying a brand new product.
  • Buy eco-friendlier electronics that are Energy Star-certified and/or EPEAT certified by the Global Electronics Council.
EPEAT

EPEAT was formed by a grant from the EPA and is managed by the Global Electronics Council.  Registered products must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, design for circularity and product longevity, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance.

Energy Star

In 2020, the use of Energy Star appliances saved 520 billion kilowatt-hours, $42 billion in energy costs, and reduced emissions by 400 million metric tons. Energy efficient appliance use can save a household around $450 in energy costs per year.

Go Green: Take care of your devices to extend their lifespan

  • Use cases/screen protectors.
  • Keep devices clean to prevent dust, dirt, and grime from building up and preventing them from working properly. Read Bob Vila’s tips on how to clean various electronics, and find eco-friendly cleaners here.
  • Care for your battery. General guidelines for extending the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries in cellphones, laptops, and other electronics include keeping them from extreme heat or cold and keeping devices between 20-80% charged for the majority of the time. Check manufacturers for brand specific instructions.
  • Use a surge protector.
  • If storing a device, store with battery life at ~50%.

Go Green: Trade in or donate electronics

Extend the life of your electronic devices after you no longer have use for them by passing them on to someone else.

Trade in, sell or donate unwanted electronics in working condition.

Some items may be traded in via the manufacturer, while Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target have electronic trade-in programs. Trade in cell phones with your wireless carrier.

Go Green: Recycle old electronics

assorted e-waste

Clean out your closets and recycle your electronics! One study found that 30% of cell phones and video game consoles in people’s homes are not in use. 20% of TV and video-player equipment and 12% of electric cooking tools are also gathering dust.

Create some space and clear out your camcorders, digital cameras, first generation iPods, and Walkmans. Electronic recycling reduces environmental impact by decreasing dependence on virgin materials. Read more about electronic hoarding in this Time article.

Nearly any type of electronic device can be dropped off for recycling at Best Buy or Staples–and with the exception of TVs and computer monitors, there is no fee. Staples also has an online tech recycling program where you can ship gadgets to be recycled.

Amazon will also recycle small electronics for free. Additionally, many manufacturers have their own recycling programs. Find other local electronic recycling options here.

If your city has bulk waste pickup, check whether e-waste recycling is part of the program, especially for large items. My city accepts electronics in the bulk waste collection and will take them to get recycled.

For large items, you could try a waste hauler like Junk King. They reuse, repurpose, or recycle 60% of what they haul away.

Do NOT put electronics or batteries in household recycling.

Read more about decreasing your digital carbon footprint from the World Economic Forum.

Reduce E-Waste

Audio/Video equipment

Go Green: Energy Star certified

Energy Star certified audio/video equipment can save up to 70% energy than other models. Consider unplugging when not in use.

Recycle A/V equipment

Best Buy and Staples both have extensive list of audio/video equipment they will accept; check their site for specific items. Epson projectors can be sent in for recycling free of charge.

Skullcandy will give you 30% of your purchase for sending them any brand of headphones or earbuds for recycling. You can also send them a selfie of you dropping them off for recycling or donation.

Cables & Cords

Who doesn’t have a thousand extra USB and other charging cords laying around? If you have any extra new, unused phone charging cords, donate them to the YWCA or homeless shelter.

Recycling cables & cords

Any old, broken, or unwanted cords and cables can be recycled at Best Buy, Staples, or Amazon.

Cameras

How to recycle cameras

Best Buy accepts digital and SLR cameras, video cameras, lenses, memory cards, and digital photo frames. Some camera manufacturers like Epson and Canon offer recycling programs. Nikon has a trade-in program.

Car audio & tech

Recycling auto electronics

Best Buy accepts CB radios/scanners – Radar detectors – Decks – Security systems – In-dash GPS – Speakers/amps – Outdoor GPS – Wiring harnesses and install kits – Portable GPS

CD & DVD Players

Recycle CD & DVD players at Best Buy or Staples.

Recycling DVDs and CDs

Pack your own box of ‘techno-trash’ and ship to GreenDisk. They accept all forms of electronic media and their cases: diskettes, zip disks, CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, DVDs, video tape, audio tape, game cartridges, DAT, DLT and virtually all other type of computer tapes. Numerous other products are also accepted, check their website for the list.

Cell phones

Follow the life of an iPhone.

If your cell phone is in good shape when you decide to upgrade, you can always sell it or trade it in through your carrier or manufacturer, but consider donating it to a charity like Cell Phones for Soldiers or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Where to recycle old cell phones

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of recycling your old cell phones. These devices have become the most prolific type of e-waste on the planet. There are around 16 billion cell phones in use around the world, and each year about 5 billion of those are disposed of.

People replace their phones on average every 18-24 months, with only about 15% getting recycled properly. The rest end up stashed in drawers or in the landfill, where toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, and arsenic leach out, contaminating soil and ground water.

You may not realized cell phones contain valuable metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and copper. A USGS study determined that for every million cell phones recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered. Recycling is a much more environmental friendly option that decreases the need to mine for virgin materials.

Check Call2Recycle for the cell phone drop off location nearest you. Carriers offer trade-in or recycling options, as well as manufacturers like Apple or Google.

Best Buy, Staples, and Amazon will accept phones and chargers for recycling.

Recycle landline phones at Best Buy.

Cell phone Accessories

Go Green: Plastic-free phone case

Phone cases, try Pela. They are plastic-free, made with plant based materials that can be composted. I have a case for my phone and watch strap for an Apple watch and I love them both. They have lots of cool designs and are very sturdy.

Recycling phone cases

  • Phone cases can be recycled at Staples.
  • Try Casetify, where you can send in any brand of phone case to be recycled at no charge, and for doing so, the company will give you a 15% discount on a new one.
  • PopSockets (which is a certified Climate Neutral company) can be recycled through a free mail-in Terracycle program; this program also accepts any brand of phone case.

Clock Radios/Alarm Clocks

Donate to thrift stores or the YWCA.

Recycle

Recycle clock radios and alarm clocks at Best Buy.

Go Green: Energy Star models; energy saving practices

  • Energy Star computers use 25-65% less energy than other models. Check the Global Electronics Council’s EPEAT registry for sustainable choices for computers, as well as servers and other network equipment.
  • Laptops use much less energy than desktop computers.
  • The most important thing you can do to save energy is enable sleep mode when the computer is inactive. Power down if you’re not going to use it for more than a couple hours.
  • Screen savers don’t save energy. They use power for the monitor and some will also keep the CPU from shutting down.
  • Dimming your display to 70% can save nearly 20% of the energy used by a monitor.
  • When left running in the background while multitasking, many popular computer games will not allow the computer to go to sleep – even if the game is paused.

Sustainable computer brands include HP, Microsoft, and Apple. These companies stands out for their recognition for being among world’s most sustainable and ethical companies. All three were on Just Capital’s Top 10 American Companies for Environmental Performance in 2022.

Check out Energy Star’s most energy efficient computer monitors of 2023.

Where to donate a computer

There are numerous organizations that will appreciate the donation of your unneeded computers. Try a local school, Goodwill, or non-profit. Computers with Causes and Digitunity are two organizations that can help connect you with local donation opportunities.

How to recycle computers

Recycle computer parts of all types at Best Buy and Staples. They will accept computers, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and most computer accessories such as keyboards; check sites for list of specific items. Best Buy does charge a $29.99 fee to recycle computer monitors, and they must be 49″ or smaller; Insignia and Dynex brands are free. Staples website lists computers as acceptable but does not specify anything about computer monitors.

Amazon will recycle small items like keyboards, mice, tablets, and e-readers.

As with all electronics, check with the manufacturer for recycling programs. Apple offers free recycling with the purchase of a computer.

Recycle tablet and e-reader cases at Staples.

Copy Machine

Go Green: EPEAT registry copier

Check the Global Electronics Council’s EPEAT registry for sustainable choices.

Recycling copy machines 

Recycle copy machines at Staples.

Fax Machine

Recycling fax machines

Recycle fax machines at Staples or Best Buy.

Printers

Go Green: Energy Star certified printer

Choose an Energy Star certified printer and check the Global Electronics Council’s EPEAT registry for sustainable choices.

How to recycle printers

Recycle printers at Best BuyEpson printers can be sent in for free recycling.

Scanner

Go Green: Energy Star certified scanner

Choose an Energy Star certified scanner. Check the Global Electronics Council’s EPEAT registry for sustainable choices.

Recycling scanners

Recycle scanners at Best BuyEpson scanners can be sent in for free recycling.

Televisions

Go Green: Energy Star certified TV

Energy Star certified TVs use an average of 25% less energy than other models. Check the Global Electronics Council’s EPEAT registry for sustainable choices.

  • Don’t keep videos playing after you leave a room or go to sleep. Streaming services are responsible for about 1% of greenhouse gases.

How to recycle an old tv

Televisions can be the most difficult type of e-waste to recycle because many recyclers will not take them. Free TV recycling is rarely an option. This is because TVx contain hazardous materials and are difficult to recycle. Best Buy charges $29.99 for tv recycling. Free TV recycling is difficult to find since they contain hazardous materials and are difficult to recycle. Do not dispose of TVs in the trash; they need to be taken to a hazardous waste drop off location.

Video Games

Trade-in or sell at stores like GameStop or Game Changerz.

Where to recycle video games and consoles

Best Buy will accept cables and connectors, portable LCD screens, controllers and keyboards, consoles. Staples will accept consoles. Amazon is another choice.

Scroll to Top