Old electronic gadgets may be valuable - or toxic
Quick! How many electronic gadgets do you have?
Televisions, cell phones, computers, tablets, game consoles, e-readers, fitness trackers, programmable thermostats — they add up. The average American household owns 24 consumer electronics products, according to a 2013 report by the Consumer Technology Association.
Not surprisingly, they're the fastest-growing item that Americans throw away, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
That's a problem, because computers, TVs and cell phones contain lead, cadmium, mercury and other toxic materials. In the garbage, those metals can be released, polluting air and water and putting people at risk.
And those outdated or busted electronic gadgets often contain valuable materials such as gold and silver, or aluminum, steel and rare-earth elements. Those materials can't be reused, though, if the items are dumped into a landfill or are gathering dust in a closet.
For those reasons, it's illegal in Oregon to put TVs, computers, laptops and monitors in the garbage — people doing so knowingly may be fined. Instead, such products must be recycled, says Patrick Morgan of Metro's Recycling Information Center.
Here are some tips on how to safely dispose of anything with a battery or a cord — or extend their useful lives:
Recycle some items free of charge
Oregon E-Cycles is a statewide program funded by manufacturers that provides safe recycling of a range of electronics. You can take up to seven items covered by the program to a participating collection site and recycle them for free. Some locations also accept additional items, such as speakers, scanners or game consoles, but may charge a fee.
To find a nearby collection site, check deq.state.or.us/ecsearch/Default.aspx
All Oregon E-Cycles recyclers are required to follow best practices for worker safety and environmental protection. In some cases, you may need to erase your own hard drives to protect your privacy.
In addition, many manufacturers provide their own take-back programs. Some offer free shipping or gift cards if your device can be reused or refurbished.
Of course, donating a TV, computer or gadget that's still in good working condition ensures the best use of the resources used to make them. Wipe your personal data from devices before delivering them to a nonprofit.
Most cell phones not recycled
Cell phones are a gold mine. For every 1 million smart phones recycled, 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium and more than 35,000 pounds of copper can be reused, according to the EPA.
But only 10 to 14 percent of cell phones are getting recycled, probably because they're gathering dust in drawers or getting tossed in the trash. To find a place near you that recycles cell phones, search Metro's Find a Recycler database at oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling/find-a-recycler
If your phone still works, you can sell or donate it. Morgan recommends removing the SIM card and SD card first, and then looking online for instructions for removing any remaining data. Check online for local nonprofits that accept used cell phones. Don't forget to donate, recycle or sell the charger, too.
Other household gadgets
What to do with a busted clock radio, toaster, vacuum cleaner, blender or outdated game console?
It's not illegal to put these in the trash, Morgan says, but they all contain valuable materials that can be reused. Think aluminum, steel and plastic.
For items not in good enough shape to donate, check Metro's Find a Recycler database. It's also worth checking whether a manufacturer has a take-back program.
Whatever you do, "please, please, don't put them on the curb, or on the corner," says Tiffany Gates, solid waste planner with Metro's Regional Illegal Dumping Patrol, which cleans up 3,000 dump sites a year.
If you want to offer things free, she says, keep them in your yard or advertise on websites like Craigslist, Freecycle or Nextdoor.
Appliances are different
When it comes to disposing of defunct appliances, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and water coolers are in a special category. Because they contain Freon, a coolant that is toxic when released into the atmosphere, they must be handled with care. It's illegal in Oregon to put coolant-containing appliances in the trash, Morgan says.
Instead, check Find a Recycling for ideas on where to recycle them.
Bylined articles by Metro writers do not necessarily represent the opinions of Metro or the Metro Council. This story was edited from its original version published at oregonmetro.gov/news.
Find out more
• Oregon E-Cycles: www.deq.state.or.us/ecsearch/Default.aspx
• Metro's Find a Recycler database: oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling/find-a-recycler
• Regional Illegal Dumping Patrol: www.oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling/rid-patrol