During the holiday season people tend to get presents of new computers, cell phones, televisions and more. While it’s exciting to upgrade your electronics, it leaves you with old gear that’s often hazardous to simply throw away. Electronic equipment is filled with toxins like lead, mercury and cadmium which, if sent to a landfill, could poison the surrounding soil. That’s why electronic waste needs to be treated differently than regular trash.
If you don’t want to sell your old electronics on eBay or craigslist—because they’re either too old, broken or you just don’t have the time—there are still easy ways to get rid of this e-waste. Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything you need to know.
What exactly is e-waste?
E-waste includes computers, televisions, printers, home entertainment systems, copy machines, facsimile machines, microwave ovens, toasters, VCR players, DVD players, radios, cordless telephones, cellular telephones and answering machines.
Where can you get rid of it?
Since the City of Oakland’s trash pickup (and most waste management companies) won’t take e-waste, you need to go to a place that is equipped to dismantle the electronics safely to ensure that toxins aren’t spread. It’s also important to be certain that the recycler isn’t merely shipping the e-waste to an overseas landfill where it could leach pollutants into some other country’s ground.
The go-to recycler in the East Bay is Alameda County Computer Resource Center, which is a nonprofit located in Berkeley. The center’s motto is, “We will recycle anything that you can plug into a power outlet.” If you drop off a computer still in working order, they’ll donate it to someone who can’t afford to buy it, like a student. If it’s broken, they will try to fix it and then donate it. If they can’t fix the computer, they will recycle it in an environmentally friendly way as they do with all other e-waste. You will get a tax write-off from Alameda County Computer Resource Center when you drop off your electronics. They do charge a nominal fee of fifty cents a pound for most items they recycle. Televisions and monitors are the one exception, which are free to drop off. You can find hours of operation and other details on their website (www.accrc.org).
Some Goodwill thrift stores will also take old electronics off your hands. Through their Goodwill Industries “Reconnect” program, you can drop off e-waste for free. If Goodwill is able to sell the electronic, the proceeds will be given back into Goodwill Industries. Check for nearby participating stores on their website (www.EastBayGoodwill.org).
The local nonprofit, Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute, recycles used computers by donating them to students enrolled in Oakland’s public schools in a program called Oakland Technology Exchange West. If the donated computer is broken, students learn how to fix it in a “repair classroom” and can earn “tech bucks,” which they then can use to buy a computer for home. So far, graduates of this program have earned enough points to take 100 computers with them to college. This program has also recycled several hundred used computers for use in school classrooms. More information about the Oakland Technology Exchange West can be found on Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute’s website (www.otxwest.org).
What can’t you drop off?
The Alameda County Computer Resource Center and Goodwill do not take large appliances like washing machines, stoves or refrigerators. They also don’t take liquids of any type—this includes items that may contain liquid, such as air conditioners and oil heaters. They don’t take any household batteries, fluorescent light bulbs or mercury thermometers. Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute won’t take anything other than computers.
What do you need to do before dropping it off?
If you’re dropping off a piece of electronic equipment that has any private information stored in it, like computers or cell phones, you’ll want to be sure to erase all contents. If you’re not sure how to erase everything, the Alameda County Computer Resource Center will do it for a small fee.
Top photo by JohnJMatlock via flickr creative commons