What to Do With the Stuff Your Gifts Replaced

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You probably got a ton of new products for the holidays to replace your torn up T-shirts, outdated video game console and broken toys. So, what happens to all of the old stuff?

According to the Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Report, 62 percent of consumers bought electronics; 62 percent purchased toys; 62 percent gave gift cards, and 68 percent spent their cash on clothing for presents this season.

That means you likely got one or more of these items under your tree, and whether you’re wondering how to get rid of the old stuff or the new stuff once it becomes old, here are some ideas.

You got: Microsoft Kinect, Apple iPad or Amazon Kindle

You’re replacing: outdated electronics

Whether it’s the above items or other electronic devices, they all constitute e-waste. E-waste is generally considered anything that plugs into a wall or accepts batteries, and Americans generate about 2.2 million tons of it every year.

Apple has sold more than 4 million iPads worldwide is less than six months. Photo: Apple, Inc.

The reason these devices can be so dangerous if they are tossed in the trash is because they contain a wide variety of potentially toxic materials, including lead, nickel and mercury. In landfill conditions, these harmful materials could leech into groundwater and soil, wreaking havoc on the environment.

There are two good options for proper e-waste disposal: donation or recycling.

If your electronic device is in working condition, chances are it can be reused. Many charity organizations and nonprofits around the country accept computers, cell phones, televisions and other types of e-waste.

Most major retail stores such as Best Buy and Staples accept e-waste for free; just drop off your old computer or video game console. Best Buy will accept almost all electronics regardless of where you bought them.

Apple instituted an iPod recycling program in 2005, about four years after the revolutionary MP3 player debuted. Now, you can mail in or return any Apple product, including displays and mobile phones, for recycling. If you bring in your old iPod, excluding the Shuffle, to recycle at an Apple retail store, you can get 10 percent off a new one.

Apple reached a recycling rate of 66.4 percent in 2009, and expects to reach 70 percent this year.

No matter what electronic gift you received this year, it is important to either reuse or recycle the outdated device it replaced.

You got: Scrabble Flash Cubes, Syma Remote Controlled Helicopter, Scientific Explorer Science Kit

You’re replacing: old toys, board games

Almost 2.6 billion toys are purchased annually in the U.S., and a large percentage reach obsolescence as children age or trendier toys come on the market.

Electronic Scrabble Flash Cubes by Hasbro were one of the most popular toys this season.

Toys can be tough to recycle because they fall under so many categories. They can be considered e-waste, hard plastic, cloth or metal, or they can have batteries and circuit boards, light bulbs and wiring.

Donation is, of course, the easiest and most convenient way to recycle old toys. Give them away to your neighbor, drop them off at Goodwill or send them to a toy drive. Either way, the toy can be reused and kept out of the waste stream.

Some cities, like San Francisco, actually accept toys through a standard recycling program, but you’ll likely have to seek out a recycler for your toy if it’s too damaged for donation.

Metal toys can usually be melted down and reused by a steel recycler. Plastic-based toys can also be melted and molded to become new plastic products. Since plastic recycling is done on a wider scale, recycling these toys will probably be fairly straightforward. Cloth toys can also be recycled by specialized textile recyclers.

Many toys contain batteries. Batteries are common household products, so common, in fact, Americans throw away about 180,000 tons of them a year. But throwing them away can be unsafe.

In 1996, the U.S. EPA passed the Battery Act, which did two important things: It ensured available collection methods for proper disposal of batteries, and it phased-out the use of mercury.

While batteries are a relatively small amount of the waste stream, the EPA estimated that in 1995, nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries accounted for 75 percent of the cadmium in the municipal waste stream and small sealed lead-acid (SSLA) batteries were responsible for 65 percent of the lead. But thanks to the Battery Act, much of this waste has been reduced.

In 2002, EPA issued an enforcement alert specifically aimed at rechargeable battery manufacturers, which EPA believed were not complying with the standards arranged in the Act.

While rechargeable batteries save money and help the environment by reducing waste, recycling them is vital because they contain heavy metals such as lead and nickel that can be dangerous if absorbed into the ecosystem.

As new toys become old, remember to properly dispose of the potentially harmful components and try to recycle or reuse the rest.

You got: a gift card

You’re replacing: spent gift cards and certificates

Gift cards are an increasingly popular, but quickly become obsolete. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911

Gift cards are perhaps the most considerate of the popular presents this season. That gift-giver knew to let you buy whatever you need. Yes, they’re convenient, but once gift cards are spent, there are few options to get rid of them.

The cards are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is not only fairly hard to recycle, but it can also be harmful.

Plasticizers and other chemicals are added to PVC to make it more flexible and easier to mold. These chemicals can leach out of the products into groundwater and soil.

Gift cards also have magnetic strips, different types of inks and multiple kinds of plastics – all of which complicate the recycling process.

Earthworks, an Ohio-based company, has found a way to recycle existing PVC into sheet stock that can be reused to make new cards. In 2008, the company launched the Retailer Gift Card Return Program, where consumers and retailers can mail in cards to be properly recycled.

You got: faux fur vest, military pea coat, Nordic sweater

You’re replacing: last season’s fashions

Your new clothing will keep you toasty all winter long, but it replaces old articles you don’t need anymore.

Clothing was one of the most popular gifts this season, and it's 100 percent recyclable. (Stock Photo)

If clothing is in good shape, donate it or sell it. In general, make sure clothing is clean and moisture-free. Keep it separate from other recyclables that could damage the material. Once clothes get wet, stained or mildewed, they can’t really be sold for reuse.

If donation or selling isn’t an option, clothing is 100 percent recyclable. Some cities collect clothing through normal recycling programs, but otherwise, you can find a textile recycler in your area.

These recyclers determine if the clothing can be reused or exported to developing countries. If it can’t be, most of the material will be processed into wipers or shop cloths. Anything that can’t be used for those purposes is converted into fiber used to create new textiles.

There’s very little solid waste that results from clothing recycling – and often, clothing is sorted by color before being tuned into fiber to cut down on re-dying, which saves energy and toxins.

With so many disposal options, clothing should never be just thrown away.

You Got: Inception, Toy Story 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops

You’re replacing: outdated VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and video games

New DVDs and video games always provide hours of entertainment, but what about all the old ones you never use anymore?

Within 24 hours of going on sale, Call of Duty: Black Ops sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.

Again, donation is always a good option. Local charity organizations will collect both DVDs and video games for resale or further donation.

But many components of these discs can actually be recycled.

DVDs and video games are made of similar materials: plastic, metals and ink. Discs are made mostly from polycarbonate, although a small amount of lacquer is also used as a protective coating.

Aluminum in the primary metal in discs, but traces of gold, silver and nickel are also present. The dyes used in printing on the disc contain some petroleum products, but when it comes to recycling, only metal and plastic are processed.

Many retail stores and city programs will accept discs as part of an e-waste collection program.

As you enjoy new gadgets and movies, tinker with new toys and bundle up in new clothes, think about the old.

All of the old products that were replaced can likely be recycled into new products – maybe even something you’ll receive next holiday season.

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