Easy Ways to Recycle Old PCs and Cell Phones--Really!

Every Monday when the household recycling truck comes, it's little bother for me to haul out my blue bin, where throughout the week I pitch unwanted paper, plastic, and glass. So why, then, is it so difficult for me to get rid of my old PC, my crappy three-year-old cell phone, and that Methuselah of a TV that I banished to the garage ten years ago?

Recycling aged electronics always feels like a chore, especially when you're trying to do it with little or no expense of time and money. Now, EBay, the nation's leading forum for selling used goods, is working to ease your pain, through its Rethink Initiative.

EBay Becomes ReBay

The online auction giant spearheaded Rethink earlier this year to confront the growing problem of "e-waste." For instance, an amazing 133,000 PCs are junked every day, according to industry analyst Gartner. Add to that the thousands of cell phones, printers, monitors, and other electronics, and you can see how the junk pile could overwhelm landfills.

While the sheer bulk of e-waste is an ecological nightmare alone, it's the hazardous materials they contain that cause the most alarm: Plastics, lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury are among the poisons that leech into the soil and eventually contaminate our water.

Backed by Intel, Rethink coordinates the recycling programs of more than two dozen major computer manufacturers, retailers, and cell phone companies--as well as government agencies, environmental groups, and charities--and conveniently links to all of them on one site. Previously you had to dig deep on each company or organization's Web site just to find its recycling program--if there was one.

Now the home page of the Rethink Initiative provides easy access to the wide array of responsible ways to dump your unwanted equipment. Of course, EBay would love for you to sell your unwanted stuff on its site, but the Rethink location also tells you about convenient local drop-off options, trade-in programs, and ways to donate to local charities.

The true gold at the end of this recycling rainbow is a list of links to technology companies' own recycling program pages, and referrals to local programs in your area where you can either drop off your equipment or arrange to have it picked up for free or for a small charge.

It took only a few weeks for Rethink to generate public response, EBay says. According to Stephani Regalia, senior manager of EBay Computers, "We've noticed a tremendous surge in visits to the site, particularly with the use of our online tools, such as our calculators that help determine the value of a desktop or notebook PC and the PC Selling Zone resell helper. Our partner, Earth911, had to install a larger server to handle the page requests that Rethink has generated."

Prepare Old Gear for Its Next Life

Working PCs can be sold or donated via the Rethink Initiative site. EBay even provides the instructions needed to safely delete all data on your PC's hard drive or from your cell phone so the next user can't discover your personal information. Also handy are lists of third-party sellers and of nonprofits that will take PCs and peripherals off your hands and refurbish them. For obsolete and outdated PCs, you can go to a list of responsible recyclers.

And, realizing that most cellular phones are replaced every 18 months to two years, phone carriers now offer cash or service credits to customers who recycle their old phone instead of literally throwing it in the trash.

I found the Rethink FAQs the most orderly way to find much of the information. It explains what e-waste is and then gives you follow-the-yellow-brick-road links to finding a recycler, drop-off centers, and so on.

One of the easiest ways to solve the problem is to find someone else who wants your item. From Rethink discussion groups, I discovered a nifty site called FreeBee, where at no charge you can list an item you want to give away as long as the recipient picks it up. Another grassroots site set up to facilitate reuse and recycling of products is FreeCycle, where it's easy to list anything you want to get rid of--PC, barstool--and a recipient can arrange to come get it. The same goes for Craigslist, which, in addition to its popular job, apartment, and used-car listings, also accepts free postings for anything you want to be rid of.

Recycling Is Closer Than You Think

I also discovered that the people who pick up my newspapers and bottles every week will also pick up unwanted appliances--large and small--twice a year. All I have to do is call to arrange the pick-up. Most metropolitan areas with recycling programs offer a variation of this as well. Just ask.

And typing "computer recycling centers" in any search engine will yield pages of national and local companies and organizations willing to take what might be otherwise headed to the garbage dump. So on this 35th anniversary of Earth Day, there are no excuses. Recycle away!

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