We all have a shoebox stashed away somewhere full of fraying cords and ancient hardware from a different era. As tech companies pump out newer, sleeker, and faster devices on a year-to-year basis, it's only natural for certain devices to lose their luster or fall into disrepair.
By 2020, Greenpeace estimates there will be 6 billion smartphone users, each replacing their phones every two years, on average. The waste from smartphones, as well as obsolete desktops and laptops, is already straining the environment in a number of different ways.
E-waste is growing out of control, with the United Nations finding in 2014 that over 40 million metric tons of devices and parts found their way into landfills. They estimate a 21% increase in 2018. However, tech companies have started to step up to the challenge, expanding recycling programs and offering more refurbished devices for sale.
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Amazon offers gift cards for any old devices that still work and provides clear directions for sending in any items that no longer function. They have an easy-to-follow portal that prints a UPS shipping label for you to quickly send your device back. Smartphones, tablets, Kindles, and games are accepted for return.
The company supports "the responsible disposal and recycling of electronics products" and has over 30,000 collection sites for rechargeable batteries, it says on its website. You can even recycle the boxes your Amazon purchase comes in. Amazon also allows you to donate any other non-electronic items you may have by putting them in your used boxes and printing a free UPS label from their Give Back Box program. Donations go to your local participating charity.
Similarly, Apple has a robust recycling effort, dangling the prospect of Apple Gift Cards for any prospective refurbishers.
"No matter the model or condition, we can turn it into something good for you and good for the planet. And through April 30, we'll make a donation to Conservation International for every device we receive — getting us even closer to leaving the world better than we found it," Apple wrote on its website.
After only a few questions, users can figure out how much their old device is worth, or if it's worth anything at all, and instantly get Apple Store credit or Apple Store Gift Cards. Apple claims to disassemble at least 200 iPhones an hour using Daisy, a robot designed specifically for the recycling process. They have been eager to take on the recycling challenge and continue to push for more and more ways to reuse minerals and parts in old devices.
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In an April press release, CEO Tim Cook said that Apple would continue to push "the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it."
Apple has lead the way in publicly condemning the environmentally-costly lifecycle of most devices on the market, writing in their environmental responsibility report last year that they needed to move toward "a closed-loop supply chain, where products are built using only renewable resources or recycled material."
Google has its own recycling program, offering both mail-in services and collection sites. Both Google products and other electronics can get you something from the Google Store.
Sony established one of the first recycling programs for their televisions and electronics in 2007. In 2016, they collected 9,749 tons of used consumer electronics and aim to have a collection center within 20 miles of 95% of the homes in North America.
As of March last year, Sony cumulatively collected approximately 222,727 tons of electronic devices. You can also contact them online with any questions about how and where to recycle any old devices or electronics. Although they don't offer payment or credit for any non-Sony devices, they do recycle everything for free and have a special program for rechargeable batteries.
Samsung, now the world's largest smartphone producer, organizes a number of different recycling programs for their devices. They have collection sites across the US for devices, batteries, and printer toner, but do not offer mail-in services. Depending on the state, Samsung is required to recycle their devices at no cost to you. They do not say whether credit or gift cards are offered in exchange for old devices.
LG has programs similar to other tech giants, allowing mail-in recycling in the US at no cost. They also have drop-off sites where you can bring in anything from a TV to a smartphone. It is unclear from their website whether they offer any reward for products that still work.
There are also many charities and non-profit organizations collecting electronics and putting them to good use. Music & Memory collects old iPods and mp3 players and refurbishes them for use in nursing homes. Other organizations offer home pick-ups of old electronics and devices that you no longer need.
Before letting that shoebox overflow with old devices, cords, and batteries, check an organization's website to see if you can be rewarded for recycling.
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Jonathan Greig has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.