What to ask before you recycle your electronics.

How can you keep your used electronics out of the waste stream?

Using them for as long as they still work is probably the best way. But when that’s not possible, asking the right questions can increase your chances of finding a good end-use for your old high-tech tools and toys:

  • How much do you charge? Free recycling can be a red flag. Safe recycling practices generally cost something. But don’t stop there. Charging fees doesn’t guarantee responsible recycling either.
  • Do you resell or export untested electronics? Exporting equipment that’s non-working or untested can shift the toxic burden of dilapidated electronics to developing countries.
  • Can you tell me where all the dismantled parts end up? A company that can’t track parts around the world, “shouldn’t be in the business and … shouldn’t be exporting,” says Eric Harris, who represents the trade group Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries.
  • Are you certified under the e-Stewards or R2 programs? The e-Stewards program audits recyclers for environmental protection and worker safety. It’s run by the internationally recognized environmental organization Basel Action Network. Responsible Recycling – R2 for short – conducts a similar audit, though some environmental groups have said it’s not stringent enough. Both programs are new, and several Colorado companies have undergone or plan to undergo audits for certification soon.

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