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ditch your e-waste the green way

Many of us have become tech-savvy, gadget-obsessed trend hunters. We look forward to buying new laptops, wireless devices, and cell phones every few years.

As our technological consumption increases, so should our environmental awareness. Green consciousness is, of course, a good thing, but the issue now becomes: How do we dispose of our unwanted electronics in an eco-friendly way?

Why e-cycle?

While the overall amount of general municipal waste is decreasing, electronic waste is on the rise. In 2009, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2.37 million tons of electronic waste (or e-waste) were generated in the U.S. (That' up more than 120 percent since 1999.) And only about 25 percent of those retired electronics get recycled.

Recycling, donating or upgrading

If you'd like to recycle your electronics, contact the manufacturer or retailer to see if they have programs in place. More and more companies are stepping up to the plate on e-cycling with trade-in programs or collection events at retail locations. Some of these companies also partner with local organizations and support recycling events.

Another source to contact is your municipality. Many communities organize e-waste recycling days throughout the year. Your municipality should also know the law regarding electronic waste disposal in your area.

Here are some other resources to check out:

  • Plug-In To eCycling is a program that partners the EPA with consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers to give consumers more opportunities to donate or recycle.
  • Call2Recycle, a nonprofit organization, lets consumers search via their ZIP Code for local places to recycle used portable rechargeable batteries and old cell phones.
  • Sites like www.freecycle.org, www.ebay.com, and www.craigslist.org offer forums to sell or give away your electronics.

If you plan on donating your product for reuse, your first step is to make sure it works and isn't outdated. Donation organizations have limited resources to repair and diagnose.

Before you donate, check what the organization's minimum requirements are. Generally computers should be no more than 5 years old. EPA's Do the "PC" Thing: Donate Computers (PDF) outlines steps to take in donating your computer, including how to clean up your computer beforehand.

"Do the PC Thing" also recommends what to do if you're considering upgrading your software instead. According to the EPA, computer hardware generally lasts 7 years, while software typically becomes outdated in just 3 years. You might have to pay a fee to get rid of your e-waste, but consider it an investment in the planet.

Buy Green

The EPA recommends that consumers look for electronics that:

  • Contain few toxic constituents
  • Use recycled materials
  • Are energy efficient (look for the Energy Star label)
  • Are designed for easy upgrade and disassembly
  • Use minimal packaging
  • Offer leasing or take back options
  • Meet performance criteria showing they're environmentally preferable. Take a look at www.epeat.net. By searching its database, consumers can evaluate and compare different products.

When it comes to recycling our electronics and buying greener products, we have to take proactive measures. It's the only way we'll leave a smaller footprint and protect the limited resources of our precious planet.