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How to recycle that phone you don't need anymore (plus your other old electronics)

Here's how to get rid of old electronics without feeling bad about creating more e-waste.

So you just got a shiny, unsmudged new phone.

Very cool – but what should you do with your old one, the one you don't need anymore?

E-waste is an enormous problem in the world. In 2016 humans generated 44.7 million metric tons of junked electronics, a United Nations report found. That's anything with a plug or battery – phones, TVs, computers, video game consoles, refrigerators, radios, toys, discmans, etc.

That figure is expected to keep going up, with the UN's report calling it a "growing risk." And the U.S. EPA says it has "serious concerns" about the impact on the environment (toxic materials leaching into the Earth) and human health (people mishandling the items and being exposed to toxins).

Even worse, throwing away old electronics is a missing a valuable opportunity. According to the UN, e-waste contains gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium and other highly valuable metals. 

All of the trashed items in 2016 contain an estimated $55 billion worth of those materials. Those substances potentially could have been used elsewhere, putting less strain on the need for them to be mined and produced anew. 

So where can I get rid of my old junk and not feel bad about it?

Throwing your broken PS2 and cracked iPhone into the trash is easy. But there are ways to responsibly dispose of them that aren't too inconvenient.

Here are some options:

Best Buy

Best Buy is an e-recycling giant, the United States' largest retail recycler of used electronics. The company has a goal of recycling 2 billion pounds a year by 2020.

Every Best Buy store has a recycling kiosk near the front doors, where you can drop simple things such as cables, rechargeable batteries and other small items. At the customer service counter, they'll accept larger items for free – stick vacuums, phones, hard drives, computer batteries, controllers, ink and toner, and more.

Related:

Best Buy is now charging $25 to get rid of your old TV due to rising costs

Very large items – think fridges and TVs – usually require a fee. It's $14.99 if you buy a qualifying replacement (or $99.99 without a purchase) and Best Buy will come haul it from your house.

You can see all the special rules and exclusions here, and learn what they do with the products here.

City, county and state efforts

Some cities and counties have programs set up. For example, Minneapolis lets you put two small- to medium-sized electronics out on your recycling day (you have to label them) to get picked up. 

Hennepin County operates a couple of drop-off centers, and electronics can be taken there (there's a $10 fee for TVs, computer monitors and laptops).

And the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency registers recyclers around the state that will take e-waste. You can find a list of organizations here.

The company that made it

Some manufacturers – including big names such as Apple – offer customers electronics recycling.

The above-mentioned Apple, for example, will send you a shipping label to mail your old Apple product in, or you can drop it off at a store. From there it'll get refurbished and resold, or have its materials recycled "responsibly," Apple says.

Related:

Here's how you can use all those empty gift boxes to do something good

Samsung teams with Best Buy and Staples to take old products. Sony partners with local recyclers, though the closest to the Twin Cities appear to be in Wisconsin.

LG, Dell, ASUS, Canon and more are also on the list of registered manufacturers in Minnesota (anyone that makes monitors or TVs has to register and pay the state every year). You can see a full list here.

Other groups

Third parties will help direct you to even more recycling options.

Call2Recycle lists drop-off locations, as well as what's accepted. 

Earth911 lets you search by type of product.

E-cycling Central offers a list of programs by state.

PCs for People both recycles old computers, and works to provide PCs and tech help to lower-income Americans.

TechDump offers free pickups on some items, plus drop-off locations.

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