How to Repurpose and Recycle Old Electronics Safely

family with electronics

Old cell phones and speakers often sit for years collecting dust after being replaced by newer technology. Others may even end up being simply thrown away. But improperly disposed household items, like old electronics, take a significant toll on our environment. So how do we recycle old electronics?

These items shouldn’t make their way into our landfills, but many do. Many Canadians aren’t aware their electronics are recyclable. Nor do they know how easy most cities make it to recycle these items.

While it might seem like a small act, sustainably getting rid of your old electronics is a great way to not only live a greener life, but also potentially even save a little cash. So, here’s what you need to know about your options.

Why should you recycle broken electronics?

Generally speaking, reusing, recycling, and repurposing as many items as possible helps save space in landfills. But specifically when it comes to electronics, many of these devices contain harmful chemicals like lead and mercury, which can seep into the ground and our water supply. 

But the benefit of recycling electronics isn’t limited to the environment; it helps the economy too.

Recycling can reduce manufacturing costs, as many goods made from recycled material require less water and energy to create. Companies like Apple are able to reuse large components of products that come through their recycling facilities, which helps to further reduce the cost of production on future products.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling 1 million laptops saves enough energy to power more than 3,500 homes for a year.

Where to take old electronics

Many use a lack of local resources or their busy work schedule as an excuse to forgo putting in the effort to recycle old electronics. But many Canadian cities have pretty good infrastructure set up when it comes to getting rid of these items. And in cities like Toronto, you don’t even have to leave your home to do it. 

If your busy work schedule prevents you from visiting your local recycling depot, Toronto’s city waste management system allows residents to place their old electronics curbside on Garbage day and they’ll take care of the rest.

However, in British Columbia, out of Return-It’s 170 locations, only 12 accept old electronics for recycling. Which proves that despite good systems in place, we still have a bit of work to do to make  electronics recycling more accessible.

In smaller cities where organizations like Return-It don’t operate, you can try contacting your local landfill. You might even consider reaching out to local electronics stores to see if they have an in-house recycling program. Retail outlets like Staples, Best Buy, and The Source often is a place that allows to recycle old electronics.

Which Electronics are Recyclable?

Chances are, when it comes to recycling old electronics around your home, there are a few items you might have overlooked. Here’s a quick snapshot of electronics that can be recycled:

  • Computers, including your mouse and keyboard
  • Cellphones
  • Washing machines and dryers
  • Refrigerators
  • Radios and record players
  • Digital cameras
  • Printers and digital scanners 
  • Video game consoles
  • eBike and eScooter parts

It should be noted that not all recycling facilities are able to take the same electronics. But tools like Toronto’s Waste Wizard and Alberta Recycling make it easy for individuals to learn how to recycle particular devices and appliances.

Items that are not considered to be electronic waste include things like batteries, CDs, and VHS tapes.

How to repurpose old electronics

Some old electronics around the house might just need a little tinkering to get them back into working condition. Items are often thrown out and replaced when they could simply be fixed. 

Did your TV stop working? Perhaps the backlight went out, or there is a loose wire just behind some plastic and screws. While you have to be careful while trying to fix electronics (or get a professional’s help), sometimes putting in the effort to see if your electronics can be fixed can save you a little money in the long run.

Old smartphones being thrown out are the perfect example of wasted potential, especially considering all the apps available. They can become anything from a spare musical instrument to a security camera that you can access from your new device with just a few taps of a screen. You can even download a movie or two from Disney+ and use it to distract the kids during a long car ride.

Other ways to get rid of old electronics

Unwanted but working electronics may not need to be taken into a facility and recycled. Maybe you’ve upgraded your device and simply don’t have the use or space for it. If that’s the case, there are a few other ways that your electronics could get a second life:

Trade them in for credit

If you’re planning on upgrading your device to the latest and greatest, it’s possible you could make some extra money or earn store credit towards a future purpose (maybe even your upgrade).

Companies such as Apple and Microsoft offer credit for old electronics. If your item isn’t eligible, they also have recycling programs to make it an easy one-stop shop. Likewise, phones in good condition can often be traded back to your mobile provider with the credit applied to your account, making your next upgrade a little lighter on the pocketbook. 

Sell them for cash

Old electronics that still work could be a resale goldmine. 

Websites like Kijiji, Ebay, and even Facebook Marketplace present a great opportunity for you to give your old electronics a chance for a new life and get compensated for it. 

If you’re not comfortable hawking products online, many local tech businesses will purchase broken phones and computers to repair and resell. Do a quick search to see if there are opportunities in your area, or pick up the phone and give your local repair show a call. 

Just remember when selling or recycling any old electronics: wipe all personal information from the device first!

Donate them to a good cause

Many communities have local stores such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and local thrift stores that would be happy to accept donations of working devices. Donating working but unwanted electronics is a great way to give someone the opportunity to get discounted prices on electronics they really need.

Local schools are often on the hunt for tablets or laptop donations for students who need them.  And outlets like the Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) are also available in multiple Canadian cities, including Montreal, Vancouver, and Saskatoon. Along with drop off locations they offer pick up, making recycling and donating electronics super easy to do.

The ERA is a non-profit organization that has been helping to reduce electronic waste since 2004. The electronics they received are recycled or repaired, then gifted to those in need through a “community of charities.”

One small sustainable step at a time

Today, recycling your unwanted electronics is easier than ever. With a little effort we can all work towards creating a smaller impact on the world.

But keeping up-to-date on how to recycle everything can feel overwhelming, and that’s why we created GarbageDay. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks so you can stay on top of waste and recycling, download the app and have tips and tricks delivered right to you.

Download the GarbageDay app today!​

Never miss your local waste and recycling collection day again! GarbageDay helps keep you up-to-date on your city's collection schedule with timely reminders letting you know which bin to take out as well as tips and tricks to enjoy a more sustainable and eco-friendly home.

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