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The 3 R’s of Retiring Your Old Gadgets: Reuse, Resell, or Recycle

Dan Tynan

My home is an electronics warehouse from hell. Even I am appalled by the amount of gear that has piled up over the years. Desktops, laptops, tablets, cameras, game consoles, scanners, printers — if it’s digital, you’ll find it covered in dust and squirreled away in my storage room.

Hey, don’t judge. When you’ve been writing about gadgets since the dawn of time, as I have, these things collect. Every time I ship one back, two more show up. I have a banker’s box overflowing with orphaned power bricks I neglected to return. And cellphones? Don’t get me started.

The 3 R’s of Retiring Your Old Gadgets: Reuse, Resell, or Recycle

(ThinkStock)

While you probably don’t have quite this much techno-crap in your house, I’ll bet you have some. According to the NPD Group, the average U.S. household owns nearly six Internet-connected devices. A recent survey by used gadget marketplace uSell reports that seven out of 10 Americans own gizmos they haven’t touched for at least two years. As a species, we generate 20 million to 50 million metric tons of e-waste each year, most of it toxic, the vast majority of which still goes into landfills.

So in my household and probably yours, it’s time for some serious spring cleaning. But if you want to do it in a responsible way, your options boil down to the three R’s: reuse, resell, or recycle.

But before you do any of that, read this first: Five Things You Must Do Before You Ditch Your Old Gadgets.

Give to a good cause
The first and best option is to give your old technology to someone who needs it more than you do. For years, we donated old desktops to our kids’ schools, until we realized they simply weren’t equipped to deal with the deluge of gear. Your school may vary, and if you’ve got any geek skills at all, most nonprofits will benefit more from your time and expertise than your stuff.

A better idea is to find an organization that restores old tech and distributes it where it will do the most good. Seattle’s InterConnection.org, for example, will wipe everything from your device, reinstall an operating system and software, replace any broken bits, and distribute it to a nonprofit organization. If you’re donating a laptop or a phone, you can mail it in, and InterConnection will pay the shipping, provided that it still works and is less than seven years old. The rest it sends to a certified recycler.

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(Dell Computer)

Dell has a program with Goodwill Industries. Take an old computer of any brand to a participating store, and Dell will refurbish it if possible so it can be resold to a needy family. If there’s no participating Goodwill near you, try searching Microsoft’s directory of registered refurbishers.

Did I mention that you can deduct the current value of your tech donation? Sites like WorthMonkey and GadgetValue help you figure out how much to claim on next year’s taxes.

Resell your cell
If your old electronics aren’t really that old — and especially if they’re mobile devices — you could make a few bucks by selling them. All the major wireless carriers will cut you a deal if you trade in your old handset when you get a new one; there are also dozens of sites that will buy your old smartphone or tablet. It’s amazingly easy: Select your device, get a price, pop it into a prepaid mailer, and wait for the money to roll in.

Or you can bring your phone, tablet, or MP3 player to an ecoATM kiosk, which will evaluate your device, take it off your hands, and give you the option to donate the value to charity or to take home cold, hard cash.

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(ecoATM)

The downside? Prices vary wildly, and you probably won’t get as much as you want for it. For example, my black, WiFi-only, 16 GB iPad 2, which cost me $500 new two years ago, will fetch $106 at NextWorth. Gazelle offered me $120 for one in flawless condition. BuyMyTronics offered $125, which was also the top of the price range for ecoATM. uSell, which provides a marketplace of buyers rated and ranked by its customers, showed me offers ranging from $80 to $145.

If I wanted to sell it on Amazon, Craigslist, or eBay, I could get significantly more; eBay’s pricing estimator tells me I could snag nearly $250. But I’d be in for a lot more hassle, from creating and posting the ad to managing the offers, closing the deal, and shipping it. I don’t want to open an electronics shop, I just want to get rid of stuff.

Another big problem: If it doesn’t carry an Apple or a Samsung logo on it, you won’t get much, if you can sell it at all. My old HTC Radar phone would snag a paltry $15 at uSell and $20 at BuyMyTronics; Gazelle and NextWorth wouldn’t even touch it.

Recycling to the rescue
When your gear is too old, too broken, or too obscure to donate or sell, your last, best option is to recycle. Nearly any device older than five years is fodder for the recycletron, and there are dozens of companies more than happy to mine your tech for the rich trove of gold, silver, cadmium, and other precious metals they contain.

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(Earth911)

You can use the directory at Earth911 to find a recycler near you. Most major electronics manufacturers also offer some kind of trade-in or recycling program, but your mileage will vary. For example, I had two broken inkjet printers that weren’t worth selling or donating, so I visited HP’s trade-in site to see if I could get something for them. No dice. Even if they were in perfect working condition, they were worthless, though HP would take them off my hands if I paid $10 apiece for shipping. No, thanks. I tossed them in the back of the car and drove them over to Best Buy, which will accept almost any kind of electronic gear and recycle it responsibly. (Office Depot, Staples, RadioShack, and other big retailers also offer electronics recycling, though some charge nominal fees.)

Frankly, that is my go-to option when all others are exhausted. Every few weeks I dig into the storage closet and haul a bunch of electronics to my closest big-box store. Best Buy’s official recycling policies say the stores will accept only three items per household at a time, but my local store apparently didn’t get the memo — they have yet to turn me away, no matter how much stuff I dump on them.

Eventually I will even get to that box of orphaned power bricks. And that, my friends, will be a glorious day.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com