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Earth Day Refresh: How to Declutter Responsibly

Here’s how to reuse, recycle, and resell electronics and other household items.

By Jill Duffy

You’re ready to clean house, clear out the garage, and tidy up the odds and ends that have accumulated in your office. That’s admirable. But what are you going to do with the things you don’t want?

Many people know they should dispose of unwanted items, including electronic waste, in a responsible way. What constitutes “responsible” is the part that leaves a lot of people guessing.

When in doubt, leave it out—of the trash, that is. Here’s what you need to know.

Resell Computers, Tablets, and Smartphones

Reselling used electronics is a great option for desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It can work for other items, too, but those aforementioned items are easy wins. The downside is that reselling can be a time-consuming process, so if your priority is getting rid of clutter, you may have to skip this one (look at recycling instead).

You can resell electronics yourself or use a service that can help you. For example, marketplaces such as eBay and Swappa let you list a product, set an asking price, ship the device once it’s sold—in other words, handle everything yourself. If you don’t want to do that legwork, you can cash in a product with a retailer for money back on your next purchase or store credit. Manufacturers such as Apple will give you clear advice for how to wipe your hard drive or reset your phone, and you can trust that they’ll do their due diligence in terms of cleaning and preparing the refurbished item before they sell the product to someone else. If you sell directly to a buyer through a marketplace, you have to make sure you wipe your personal information off the device properly.

While some people assume they need to have last year’s model for a resale to be worthwhile, that’s not always true. Your devices don’t have to be pristine, either, although their condition will affect the amount of the offer.

For more, see how to sell your iPhone safely and how to sell your Android phone safely.

Reuse Computers and Smartphones

(Image: Shutterstock/Nonchanon)

There are numerous ways to repurpose an old computer or smartphone. One of the simplest is to use it for a single task or function. An old smartphone can become a storage unit for music, audiobooks, or ebooks. An old computer in a guest bedroom can turn into a more limited internet browsing machine or even just a device for streaming movies and shows.

To give an old machine the best shot at running as fast as it can, be sure to wipe it first. You can search for instructions on how to wipe your particular device or operating system. Or for less than $20, you can use a utility with a wipe option to blast away the past.

Recycle Electronics

Details about how to recycle technology vary based on where you live and what kind of technology you have. The long and short of it is that electronics manufacturers (such as Apple, Dell, and HP), phone service providers, and electronics stores (BestBuy, Staples, Office Depot) often have programs for recycling the same kinds of devices they sell.

Just as when you resell an old electronic device, be sure to wipe the disk of anything that can store information on it, and that includes printers! Search online (or in the manual) for your printer model and instructions for how to wipe the disk. Then, recycle or donate your printer by looking for a local store that accepts them. Check whether the same company takes old printer cartridges too, as those shouldn’t go in the trash either.

Miscellaneous: Cords, Headphones, and Batteries

(Image: Shutterstock/TonelsonProductions)

It’s almost easier to get rid of large electronics than small ones. There’s always a drawer or box where you can stash one more charging cord, cheap pair of headphones, dead fitness tracker, or used batteries.

I let these items collect in a bag in my kitchen, somewhere not too hidden so that I occasionally see them and don’t forget they exist. Then, once a year, I leave them at a drop-off site. Grocery stores sometimes have small electronics recycling, as do big-box home improvement stores, such as The Home Depot. Keep your eyes peeled at the entrances and exits of big stores for them. If you’re not looking, they’re easy to miss. These locations sometimes accept lightbulbs, too. If you’re anywhere near a MOM’s Organic Market, they have drop-off recycling bins for everything from eyeglasses to cork.

Ink toner cartridges should be recycled, too. Stash them in a leak-proof bag, just in case there’s any ink left, and look for recycling programs at office supply stores, such as Office Depot.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

(Image: Getty Images/HollenderX2)

As you clean up, keep in mind the decades-old mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reduce means limiting your consumption in the first place. When you don’t buy things you don’t need, you don’t have to dispose of them later. Always consider whether you can stretch the lifespan of a product a little longer to reduce your consumption.

Reuse means repurposing belongings by finding new ways to use them. The longer you keep items in your possession in use, the longer you stave off additional consumption. Upcycling, or physically changing a product to give it a fresh purpose, is another type of reuse. You don’t have to take on zany DIY projects, like turning a VHS player into a toaster, to do it, as some of the previous examples show.

Recycling is something should you only do once an item has reached its end of life with you. It’s often the hardest step of all because it involves sorting goods, finding organizations that know how to break them down and repurpose them, and delivering the items to them. If you know where to look and plan ahead, the process can be easier and more convenient.

Here are a few more resources to help you get rid of unwanted items when you’re doing a big declutter project:

  • Recycle Now’s list of items you can recycle and tips on how to do it
  • PlanetAid resells used clothing, textiles, and shoes to businesses in developing markets, and can make use of goods that would be rejected by thrifts stores
  • Nike Move to Zero is a program that repurposes the components of old sneakers; the site has a list of Nike stores where you can drop them off
  • Blue Jeans Go Green is a partnership program that turns your old denim into housing insulation; in return, you get a discount at a clothing retailer, such as Madewell and Levi’s.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.




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