In most American households, there is a junk drawer that has been turned into a no-nonsense place for forgotten items. It’s often filled with duds like loose rubber bands and take-out menus, as well as – increasingly – abandoned electronics.
Old cables and cords that connect to who knows what and outdated or non-working cell phones are laid around for no reason.
According to a study from consulting and financial advisory firm Deloitte, by 2022, the average American household will have 22 connected devices.
But these electronic tombs don’t have to languish in cluttered kitchen drawers or dusty shoe boxes under our beds. In the Twin Cities and Minnesota, there are plenty of options to dispose of abandoned equipment in easy — and environmentally friendly — ways.
Here are some ways to clear your home of unused technology.
Just don’t throw it away!
In Minnesota, it is illegal to dispose of cathode ray tubes or any electronics that contain mercury. Cathode ray tubes and mercury are found in many computer monitors, laptops and television screens. It is illegal to dispose of rechargeable batteries and products containing rechargeable batteries in the trash.
“Most electronics have some sort of toxic substance in them…disposing of your electronics in the trash is a public health issue,” said Maria Jensen, an environmental health and safety expert at RePower, one of the largest e-waste companies in Minnesota.
There is also the possibility of recycling some precious metals or other electronic items.
According to a pilot study published in March by Jensen and other researchers, Minnesota recycles more than 266 million pounds of e-waste each year, including 78 million pounds of precious metals, which could generate $2.8 billion annually. Recycling or recycling all of the state’s e-waste could also create more than 3,000 jobs, according to the survey.
Make it alive
Before you retire your old device, consider whether it is actually at the end of its useful life.
“Use your device as long as possible,” says Amanda Cotton, electronic waste program coordinator at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Consumers don’t always need to quickly switch to the new iPhone when their old phone still works, she said. People may give away their old devices to children or perhaps the elderly. Or if you really need another device, consider buying a refurbished one to help the circular economy. National retailers like Best Buy, for example, offer up to 50% off refurbished electronics and their performance has been tested.
Electronics repair stores can restore many electronics, whether it’s fixing a cracked screen or installing a better battery. People should also contact manufacturers about device warranties or insurance policies in case something goes wrong.
People can sell their used electronics to pound shops, video game stores, and other specialty electronics stores. Many people choose to sell their electronics online through options such as Facebook Marketplace, although people should approach that last option with caution and be aware of security when trading.
Goodwill and non-profit organizations can donate old electronics, including military cell phones.
Find a place to recycle
Many electronics can be recycled, including popular items like laptops, printers, and televisions. Customers can reuse things like docking stations, video and audio cards, and charging cables.
Contact your city or county household hazardous waste site for recycling options. Call and check what electronics you’ll accept and what – if any – fees apply. Due to how complex and expensive it is to build and operate some items, there are drop-in fees. The MPCA has a list of registered meeting places by county which includes private businesses.
If a garbage collector offers to haul something away for free, that’s often a red flag that you’re not properly disposing of it, Cotton said.
“The cheapest thing to do is throw them away,” Jensen said.
It operates a large collection and recycling facility off of Vandalia Avenue in the renovated Hamlin-Midway neighborhood of St. Paul. Identifies items and repairs on site for anything that needs to be fixed. The recycler sends the scrap to another facility where it is scraped before it arrives and then smelted to extract the precious metals.
“People can come to our facility … and just drop off anything, be it a cord, a battery or a circuit board,” Jensen said.
Refrigerators and freezers are among the few things that don’t have power.
About 10% of what the facility collects is refurbished and possibly sold at a used electronics store. More complex electronics, such as a printer or microwave, may require a fee to be recycled. But the revamped Ramsey County is an official e-waste collection partner, making it free for county residents to recycle most items at the Vandalia facility.
It also has a small area in the redeveloped Golden Valley.
In addition to going to a collection point, cities and counties hold collection events, such as spring or fall cleanups, that are mailed or found on community calendars.
Protect your privacy
Given the information on recycling or refurbishing old electronics, consider reprocessing or cleaning your device before throwing it away, Cotton said.
Large recyclers like Repowered, whose data destruction process includes electronic wiping or physical destruction, are transparent about how they destroy the data on the devices they receive. But do your own research and ask recyclers how they handle the process.
You can look for a recycler with third-party data security certifications, such as R2 Responsible Recycling and NAID AAA certification.
Go to the source
Where you bought your electronic device may be the answer to what you downloaded.
For example, Amazon allows device trade-ins for gift cards if you’re thinking of upgrading to a new model. It also runs a recycling program where you can mail in your unwanted items. The e-retailer even offers used battery chargers.
Richfield Best Buy, the nation’s largest retail collector of e-waste, has helped customers recycle 2.7 billion pounds of electronics and appliances since 2009. Customers can drop off up to three electronics per household per day at Best Buy stores. Some items, such as flat screen televisions, come with a recycling fee of $30 each for recycling. Best Buy also has a trade-in program, offering gift cards for items that still have value, like a recent iPhone model.
In the year In 2022, Best Buy launched a separate shipping service to pick up and recycle up to two large items — like appliances and computers — for $199.99. This was in addition to Best Buy’s existing $39.99 shipping service offered with alternate product purchase and delivery.
Last month, Best Buy launched a new recycling service where customers can mail in old electronics by ordering a prepaid Base Buy Technology recycling box. The boxes come in a small size that holds up to 6 pounds for $22.99 or a medium size that holds up to 15 pounds for $29.99.
“It’s another way for us to reach where customers are,” said Best Buy’s head of environmental sustainability, Tim Dunn. “If they don’t have the convenience of a nearby Best Buy, and maybe they don’t have those big items that we can come and pick up at their house, but they have a lot of small things…we” bring another option to our customers.