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Can You Throw Electronics Away? What to Know For Your Next Declutter

A man holding a box with a recycling logo, with electronic devices in it
Estrada Anton/Shutterstock.com

So you’ve treated yourself to a shiny new upgrade on one of your electronics. Now what should you do with the old device? These tips will help you determine the right way to dispose of your old electronics.

The big question is whether or not you can just “throw away” old electronics, and if so, which ones. Before you get rid of your old devices, here are a few things to keep in mind so you can safely dispose of them—and how you might even be able to get something in return.

Which Electronics Can You Throw in the Garbage?

A hand throwing a paper ball into two recycling bins

When disposing of any electronic devices, your first step should be to check your local laws and ordinances. Some states and regions have strict guidelines on what kinds of devices can be thrown in the regular trash and which require specialized collection and disposal.

In general, the majority of devices we consider “electronics,” like phones, tablets, TVs, and computers, shouldn’t be thrown in the regular garbage. Many of them (and their batteries) contain potentially toxic substances that can classify them as hazardous waste. Plus, some of their components, like the metal and glass elements, can actually be recycled, helping to reduce overall waste.

Other items, like household appliances such as blenders that get plugged into the wall, can typically be thrown in the trash without much of a problem. In general, if the item is mostly mechanical in operation (as in, it doesn’t have a computer chip, a heating element, or something similar), it’s probably okay to throw away. You can always check the manufacturer’s tags or the instruction manual to be sure that there aren’t any special disposal instructions.

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You can't recycle electronics at home, but you can still recycle those cans and boxes!

Which Electronics Shouldn’t Be Thrown in the Garbage?

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For the most part, electronic devices should never be thrown in the trash can. Anything that has a battery, like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, cannot be thrown out with your regular garbage. If it has a computer component to it, whether that’s a literal computer or a digital gadget or computer accessory of some kind, it cannot be thrown in the trash. If it has a heating or lighting element, like a coffee maker or a toaster, it shouldn’t be tossed in the trash.

This may sound like a pretty extensive list, and it is! When you can, it’s almost always best to look for a dedicated way to dispose of any and all electrical and electronic devices. Depending on the type of device, the components may contain toxic metals, such as lead, mercury, sulfur, chromium, or cadmium, all of which pose health risks if improperly disposed of.

Disposing of these electronics safely also has an overall positive impact on the environment. Many items can be repaired or recycled, either in whole or in their individual parts. This means fewer items in landfills, less impact from manufacturing, and even contributes to the availability of used items for shoppers looking for lower price points.

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Keep your electronics together and safely stored until you're ready to recycle them.

How to Safely Dispose of Electronics

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Different types of electronic devices can be safely disposed of in different ways, depending on what they’re made of and what resources are available in your area. Start by deciding whether or not the items in question are in good enough shape to be donated for resale (with or without minor repair) or whether they need to be recycled.

If you’re donating, keep these things in mind:

  • If it’s something simple, like a lamp that you don’t use anymore but is otherwise in good shape, it can be donated to any secondhand or charity store.
  • If the items are in need of repair, call around to find a store or a nonprofit that has technicians who are equipped to make the repairs.
  • If it’s a computer-based device of any kind, make sure that the organization you’re donating to is equipped to handle these kinds of donations.
  • Always make sure that your devices are completely wiped of any and all personal information before they leave your house.

If you’re recycling, be sure to consider these things:

  • Search for an electronics recycling organization that has a location in your community.
  • In many areas, local governments may have recycling programs as well.
  • Several brand-name manufacturers and retailers offer a variety of recycling programs, which you can find on the EPA’s website.

In some cases, you may even be able to get a little bit of a rebate when you turn in your old electronics! These are a few big-name options that may offer you a bounceback in exchange for your qualifying used electronics:

  • Amazon Trade-In offers gift cards and discounts on purchasing qualifying new devices.
  • Apple Trade-In offers gift cards for eligible Apple devices.
  • Best Buy has a robust trade-in program that offers credit toward purchasing new devices when qualifying items are brought in for recycling.

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One person's "trash" might be turned into another's treasure!

When it’s time to get rid of your old electronics, be sure you do it safely. With these easy tips, you’ll be able to clear out your electronic clutter—then move on to the next stage of the decluttering process.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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