Earth Day celebrants have some new ways to go green — and get a little green — by clearing their homes of old electronics.
Electronics retailers and manufacturers increasingly encourage customers to be more responsible with their discarded devices, initiating trade-in programs and opening drop-off locations. Earlier this month, Sears opened trade-in desks at 190 Kmart stores, letting shoppers swap their old gadgets for gift cards. Amazon, Target, JR and Gamestop all launched or expanded similar programs within the past year, too. The stores typically resell or donate gadgets when possible, and properly recycle them if not, says Tim Doyle, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association.
The effort has paid off — somewhat. E-waste recycling jumped 53% last year, with landfills spared some 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, according to the CEA. Still, many old phones, computers and gadgets continue to get thrown in the trash every day. By the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest estimates, some 75% of electronics ready for “end-of-life management” are trashed rather than recycled, leaching potentially dangerous toxins back into the ground.
Experts say as more companies offer to buy back old devices, consumers — who would otherwise throw out items or let them linger unused — might be enticed to recycle. But a glut — in terms of both the range of devices and the number of people reselling them — has pushed down some prices, says Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer for resale site Gazelle.com . (See chart for details.) It’s in consumers’ best interests to shop around.
Prior to reselling old gadgets, consumers should wipe devices of personal data, says Paul Stephens, the director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. These days, someone’s “old” device is still likely to be a smartphone rather than a basic feature phone. “It can have a tremendous amount of data on it,” he says. Sites like eHow.com and ReCellular offer instructions to clear devices, and most resale and recycling programs provide memory wipes for peace of mind.
Take these steps to maximize your returns when recycling old gadgets:
Start with resellers
Sites like Gazelle.com and NextWorth.com offer free online estimates, as do retailers including Amazon, eBay, Best Buy, Target and Radio Shack and manufacturers like Apple and Dell. Condition matters, so make note of any problems like scratches or cracks. “The better condition your gadget is when you trade it in, the more value you’re going to get for it,” Scarsella says. A 16GB iPhone 4 in “good” condition, for example, would fetch as much as $147 at Gazelle, while one that’s “flawless” might get $167. Programs typically provide a free box and cover shipping costs — and shoppers who want a faster turnaround can often find an in-store trade-in counter, Doyle says. Experts suggest getting a payout in cash. Although some programs offering store credit may have slightly higher rates, studies have found that consumers redeeming store gift cards typically spend 40% more than the value of the card.
Then, try donating
Unfortunately, some older-but-functional gadgets aren’t worth anything on the secondary market. Donate them to charity and grab a receipt, and the transaction is potentially deductible on next year’s tax return. By Goodwill’s estimates, a computer monitor might be worth $5 to $50; a DVD player, $8 to $15. Plenty of local nonprofits may also accept working phones, computers and other electronics to resell, or for use in their own offices and programs, Doyle says. Be even more careful wiping data from devices in this case, Stephens says, since charities may not have the resources to do so themselves.
Most resale sites will also take value-less gadgets to recycle, Doyle says, and GreenerGadgets.org helps people find e-cycling locations nearby. Consumers can even earn reward points for their troubles. RecycleBank.com regularly rewards consumers in 300 partner communities points based on how much paper, plastic and other goods they recycle. Chief sustainability officer Ian Yolles says the company offers 150 points for e-cycling via partner YouRenew.com. (The site also buys some old gadgets.) That’s enough to get rewards including a coupon for $10 off a $50 Macy’s purchase, or $10 off $30 at Bed Bath Beyond. There’s no need to live in a partner community to take advantage, he says.