Saying good-bye to old electronics

Photograph by Jelena Popic/istockphoto

If Santa brought newer models of cell phones, televisions, computers, or digital music players into your home during the holiday season, you may wonder what to do with the old items they’re replacing. You can’t toss your outdated electronics in the trash because e-waste contains toxic chemicals that contaminate groundwater. Dumping e-waste is illegal in most municipalities. Instead, consider these choices:

Before you discard your old gadget, consider if it is still in functional condition and could be useful to someone. If it is, donate it to a local nonprofit. Donating is a win-win proposition: It extends a product’s life cycle, and schools, shelters, and other nonprofits benefit by receiving a commodity they may not have been able to afford. For example, the Support Network for Battered Women gratefully accepts donations of used cell phones in working condition. Vision Literacy, which strives to improve literacy for Santa Clara County adults, welcomes donations of laptop and desktop computers. Check with your desired recipient, however, before passing along used electronics. If not in proper working condition, the organization may not have the resources or technical know-how to refurbish it. For electronics ready to be recycled, HOPE Services, a San Jose nonprofit that works to help people of all ages with developmental disabilities, accepts used computers, monitors, mouses, televisions, cell phones, and DVD players. The organization partners with an e-waste recycling company, which pays them for contributions. That money is then used to fund their programs.

If your item is no longer functioning, you have two choices: Send it to the manufacturer or retailer for disposal, or drop it by an e-waste recycling facility. If you do the latter, be sure to pick a responsible recycling center that will extract your item’s salvageable parts to use in manufacturing new products. According to the Silicon Valley Toxins Coalition, only 10 percent of computers are recycled properly. The rest are frequently exported to developing countries for recycling, where their toxic parts may be handled by impoverished workers and children without safety protection. Many electronics manufacturers, including Apple, Dell, Motorola, Nokia, and Panasonic offer e-waste recycling programs. You simply send the old product back. Some retailers, like Best Buy and Circuit City, also accept used electronics. Check with your local store.

If you choose to take your items to an e-waste recycling facility, the following is a list of local recyclers that are approved by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition:
Green Citizen, 161 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, x101, greencitizen.com
United Datatech, 627 Walsh Ave., Santa Clara, , uniteddatatech.com
Metech Recycling, 6200 Engle Way, Gilroy, , metechgroup.com

Many other e-waste recycling facilities exist in the South Bay, as well as weekend collection events and recycling fairs. Don’t assume that these are all responsible recyclers. Ask for credentials and question their business practices. How do they dispose of equipment? Do they process on-site or export the materials? Find out how they do business before you entrust them with your used electronics.