As millions of students prepare to head back to school, now is a prime time to shop for new gadgets and electronic devices to replace the old ones. While it’s exciting to upgrade, it can be a tough season for Mother Earth. The pencils and notepads of yore have been partially replaced by items like smartphones, tablets and laptops, which use rechargeable batteries that may contain materials that are potentially harmful to the environment.

As technology changes, consumer behavior has to change, too — we can reduce the impact these materials have on the earth. How? Studies show that recycling behavior is based on awareness, accessibility and convenience. Read on to find out how to change your habits for the better.

Whenever possible, buy less

Given how quickly technological advances are made these days, the life span of a product is typically shorter than ever before. Still, there are often opportunities to increase a product’s useful life — installing updates, using screen protectors, getting a new battery instead of an entirely new system, etc. And sometimes we’re tempted to get the latest thing even when the old one is still perfectly fine. Ask yourself if you really do need to upgrade before making the leap. If so, don’t buy something new until you’ve made a plan for disposing of the old version.

Get educated about the parts and pieces of your products

If you weren’t aware that batteries may contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when improperly disposed, don’t feel bad — plenty of people have no idea. Now that you know, consider this: When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.  None of this is good for our health or the health of the planet.

Rechargeable batteries can be recycled all across North America. Photo:
Rechargeable batteries can be recycled all across North America. Photo:

Find recycling options

Fortunately, there are programs that take batteries and cellphones and dispose of them properly instead of sending them to a landfill. One of those is Call2Recycle, North America’s first and largest consumer battery stewardship organization. The nonprofit collects and recycles batteries — including those you find in laptop computers, digital cameras, two-way radios, MP3 players or iPods, tablets and cordless phones — at no cost to municipalities, businesses and consumers. In just 20 years, Call2Recycle has collected more than 100 million pounds of batteries and cellphones, ensuring that these items, which contain valuable resources, are responsibly recycled to create new batteries and other products. This prevents potentially hazardous materials from entering the solid waste stream.

Commit to recycling

The first step in changing your behavior is knowing your options. Next is making the effort to follow through. In most parts of the country, this is super convenient, given that Call2Recycle has more than 34,000 drop-off locations for recycling rechargeable batteries. Eighty-nine percent of consumers in North America have a location within 10 miles. Many of these sites are at popular national retailers such as Sears, Staples, The Home Depot, Best Buy and Lowe’s, which makes it handy to recycle batteries and cellphones on the same shopping trip you use for picking up back-to-school supplies.

Tell a friend or family member

No matter how convenient and accessible it is to recycle batteries, it’s up to consumers to accept the responsibility and commit to environmentally responsible behavior when purchasing newer devices. The easiest way to make an impact is to incorporate recycling rechargeable batteries and cellphones that are obsolete into your routine until it becomes a habit. Encourage others you know to do the same.

“Over the years, we’ve seen significant increases in the number of cellphones, tablets and other mobile devices entering the marketplace,” says Linda Gabor, VP of Marketing and Customer Service at Call2Recycle Inc. “Although more work needs to be done to inspire consumers to take action, we can see progress in making recycling more available and accessible. Consumers increasingly want to make a difference by engaging in a more sustainable, safe and responsible lifestyle. Recycling batteries and electronics is a great way to strive to be stewards of the environment.”

Feature image courtesy of Guimarães.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Call2Recycle is one of these partners.

By Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.