How to Recycle Small Electronics

If your device has a power switch and is powered by a battery, it’s considered a small electronic. Small electronics include cell phones, tablet computers, MP3 players and digital cameras. Small electronics are not only easy to recycle, but they are sometimes the most valuable products you can recycle.

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Small Electronics Recycling Preparation

  1. If it’s possible to factory reset your electronics, this should be your first step in recycling. Delete any pictures or songs from your devices.
  2. For electronics using a lithium-ion battery, remove the battery if possible. These batteries require a special transportation procedure, and can be recycled with other rechargeable batteries.
  3. Look for a mail-in program that will pay for small electronics. You can also find charities that will accept your small electronics to raise money.
  4. If you work in an office, ask your company’s IT department to schedule an electronics recycling event once a year. You’d be amazed at how many offices have lots of computers to recycle, and an electronic waste recycler that comes to pick up office waste will also collect consumer products like tablets at no cost.

Find organizations near you that accept small electronics using our Recycling Locator.

Why Recycle Small Electronics

  • EPEAT estimates 40 percent of the heavy metals in landfills comes from electronics.
  • Even though the amount of gold in small electronics has been cut significantly in the past 15 years, you can get 1 gram of gold (the amount produced by mining a ton of ore) from just 41 cell phones.
  • Still-working electronics can be refurbished and resold, with 100 percent of the materials given a second life.

Find recycling guides for other materials

Frequent Small Electronics Recycling Questions

Can I recycle small electronics in my curbside recycling program?

No. Used electronics should only be recycled through a company that specializes in the recycling of electronics. Never place small electronics in the curbside bin. Curbside recycling programs are not equipped to handle small electronics. Electronics placed in your curbside bin will be crushed by the compactor in the truck. Pieces of glass, plastic and circuit boards from your device will contaminate the other materials in the truck and may render those items un-recyclable.

What types of recyclable material do small electronics contain?

We may not think of small electronics as tiny computers, but they have all the same internal components. Motherboards include valuable metals like copper and gold. If your small electronic device runs on a battery, the battery is made of either lithium or nickel and cadmium.

Can I make money recycling small electronics?

Yes, especially if they are in working condition. Your best bet is to trade in working electronics. Retailers including Best Buy, Staples, and Walmart offer buy-back programs in exchange for gift cards. Most scrap metal recyclers will also accept small electronics, but they pay by the pound, and small electronics don’t weigh much.

Should I remove the battery before recycling?

Many devices that contain lithium-ion batteries, such as mobile phones, are not designed to allow the owner to remove the battery. Look for mail-back programs for recycling your small electronics — especially if you want to get paid. However, be aware that there are special shipping requirements for lithium batteries due to the fact that they can burst into flames (most famously noted in the Samsung Galaxy Note recall of 2016).

While not all electronics use lithium-ion batteries, they are common in laptops and cell phones because they are excellent at holding a charge. If you are mailing your electronic device and it’s safe to do so, you may want to remove the battery and recycle it through a Call2Recycle drop-off point instead of shipping it.

Do electronics manufacturers offer recycling?

Yes, and most have created partnerships with retailers to make recycling easier. Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba joined forces to create MRM Recycling for recycling their products. Dell has partnered with Goodwill for the Dell Reconnect program through participating Goodwill location. Best Buy and Staples will accept any brand of electronics for recycling. You should also check if the manufacturer of your product offers a trade-in program.

What are the electronics recycling certifications I should be asking about?

The two most common electronics recycling certifications for North American recyclers are the Sustainable Electronics Recycling International’s (SERI) R2 Standard and the Basel Action Network’s (BAN) e-Stewards.

R2 (originally R2 Solutions) has been around since 2008, and focuses on certifying the recycling process, data destruction, and the tracking of materials throughout the recycling process. BAN has been certifying recyclers since 2009 to ensure that no electronics are exported to non-OECD countries.

There are electronics recyclers that aren’t R2 or e-Stewards certified, but to make sure that you are recycling products responsibly, check the directories for these certified companies: R2 Recyclers and e-Stewards.

How are small electronics recycled?

The first step for an electronics recycler is to test products to see if they can be repaired or refurbished. When they find non-working devices, recyclers will remove the battery and recycle it along with other batteries. The remaining material may be shredded or dismantled manually to harvest parts or components for reuse. When electronics are shredded, plastic, glass and metal are separated and sent to manufacturers for use in new products.

Do any states require small electronics recycling?

As of 2017, 25 U.S. states require recycling of some forms of electronics. Of those, 17 have banned electronics from landfills. The good news is that every time a new law is passed, recycling becomes that much easier for residents in that state.

Additional Reading

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Trying to recycle small electronics? Find a recycling location near you using the Earth911 recycling search.