How to Properly Dispose of Hard-to-Recycle Electronics

How to Properly Dispose of Hard-to-Recycle Electronics

How to Properly Dispose of Hard-to-Recycle Electronics


With technology advancing so rapidly, many of us update our electronics frequently. This leaves us with the question of how to properly dispose of older devices that are hard to recycle, like laptops, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. Improperly discarding electronics can be harmful to the environment and human health. In this article, I will provide an in-depth guide on the best practices for responsibly disposing of hard-to-recycle consumer electronics.

Determine if the Device Can Be Reused

Before deciding how to dispose of an electronic device, first determine if it still functions properly and can be reused.

  • Test the device thoroughly – check for cracked screens, functioning buttons/keys, intact ports, etc. Electronics that still work properly are ideal for donating or reselling.

  • Wipe the device to remove all personal data and accounts. This is essential for protecting your privacy if passing the device to someone else.

  • Research options to donate or resell. Many charities, thrift stores, online resellers, etc. accept used electronics in good working order. This extends the lifecycle of electronics and reduces waste.

If the device cannot be refurbished or reused, then proper recycling or disposal is necessary.

Recycle Through Manufacturer or Retail Programs

Many electronics manufacturers and retailers offer recycling programs to take back old devices. This is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of unusable electronics.

  • Find out if the manufacturer or retailer where you purchased the device offers a takeback program. For example, Apple, Samsung, Dell, HP, and Best Buy all have recycling programs.

  • Follow the specific steps to recycle through that program. This often involves printing a shipping label, packaging the item, and dropping it off at a designated location like a UPS store.

  • Remove any personal information and data from the device before recycling. Perform a factory reset if possible.

  • Be aware of any fees associated with the recycling program. Sometimes small fees apply per device, which covers the costs of proper disposal.

Locate E-Waste Recycling Centers

If the original seller does not offer a takeback program, search for a local e-waste recycling center.

  • Call your municipal government office to find household hazardous waste collection events or permanent recycling centers in your area.

  • Search online for “e-waste recycling near me” to find mail-in options and drop off locations. Many recycling centers offer free e-waste recycling.

  • Find retailers like Best Buy and Staples that collect certain electronics for eco-friendly recycling, regardless of where they were purchased.

  • Only use government-approved e-waste recyclers certified under the Responsible Recycling (R2) or e-Stewards standards. Avoid companies advertising “recycling” that export e-waste overseas.

Safely Dispose of Hazardous Components

Some electronics contain hazardous materials that require special handling during disposal:

  • Remove batteries and dispose of them separately at designated drop offs for hazardous materials. Attempting to recycle devices with lithium-ion batteries can cause fires.

  • Deposit CRTs (old boxy monitors and TVs with cathode ray tubes) at approved recycling centers. CRT glass contains lead that can contaminate landfills.

  • Extract mercury-containing components like bulbs and switches using safe handling techniques before recycling devices. Mercury vaporizes and bioaccumulates when released.

  • Research your state environmental agency and local waste management website for disposal guidelines around hazardous electronic waste.

Donate Repairable Electronics to Charity

For electronics with minor damage like cracked screens or software issues, consider donating to charitable organizations that will refurbish and reuse them.

  • Find national charities like the National Cristina Foundation that partner with retailers to collect electronics for donation.

  • Look into IT asset recovery donation services that will wipe data, perform repairs, and donate functional devices to schools and non-profits.

  • Research local community foundations, thrift stores, shelters, schools, libraries, and other nonprofits that accept donated electronics in any condition for refurbishment.

  • Be sure to erase all personal information from electronics before donating to charity. Perform factory reset when possible.

Dispose of Remaining E-Waste Responsibly

For electronics that cannot be reused, recycled, or donated, disposal in a landfill is the last resort.

  • Check municipal guidelines for electronics and computer waste disposal laws. In some areas, it is illegal to dump e-waste in landfills.

  • Remove hazardous components like batteries for separate disposal prior to trash disposal. Look up safe methods for extracting mercury bulbs, switches, etc.

  • Break down devices into separate categories like plastics, metals, and circuit boards. This makes waste easier to sort if the landfill diverts certain materials.

  • Place components in sealed bags or containers labeled as electronics waste prior to placing in the trash.

  • Research reputable electronics recyclers that offer certified responsible disposal services for non-working devices as an alternative to landfills.


Disposing of hard-to-recycle electronics properly takes some research and effort. The best options are donating working devices, recycling through takeback programs, and utilizing certified e-waste recyclers. With some diligence, you can keep toxic e-waste out of landfills and avoid contributing to unsafe overseas dumping. Handling unwanted electronics in a responsible manner benefits the planet and protects human health.