Keeping Electronics Out of the Trash

  • Although China banned electronic waste, illegal operations still take American waste to retrieve precious metals. (Photo by Ted Land)

A lot us recycle, but what about that “less-than-smart-phone” you just replaced with the latest model? What about those batteries in the clock? As Tanya Ott reports, sometimes it’s hard to know how to recycle electronics.

Photos of where our electronic cast asides can end up

Where to recycle rechargeable batteries and cell phones

Where to recycle other electronics

Where to recycle single-use batteries


Up to half of all Americans say they recycle common materials, like paper, plastic and glass, “all of the time.” Husband and wife Don Dickman and Kathleen McEvvit live in Laingsburg, Michigan.

“Well, we recycle glass, we recycle metal, we recycle plastic, magazines, paper. I’m trying to think if we recycle any electronics. I don’t think we have. No, not lately.”

When it comes to electronics, many of us need a little nudge… say, from the kids from the television hit Glee.

Clip from Glee: “Test, test one… oh hold on we got a dead mic (batteries clanking in trash can) you know you’re not supposed to throw batteries out, right?”

A new survey
from the consumer electronics marketplace Retrevo finds that more than 60% of respondents nationwide don’t recycle their old electronic gadgets.

Clip from Glee: “Does it count as recycling if you collect old batteries to throw at clowns?”

Many people say they don’t know how to recycle electronics, or that e-recycling isn’t available where they live.

Most people recycle their old cell phones and batteries at retail outlets like Radio Shack, Home Depot and Staples. Jeff Morris owns the Cartridge World franchise in Ann Arbor.

“We take in batteries for recycling and then they get sent off. Usually I send them over to the local batteries plus store or there are some local charities that can actually make a little money with them if we send them there.”

Morris says he’s lost track of how many batteries and toner cartridges his shop recycles each year. It’s a lot.

Lisa Pollack is with the nonprofit group Call2Recycle, a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program in North America. Since 1994, Call2Recycle says it has diverted more than 50 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from landfills. Still, says Pollack, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Does this sound familiar?

“Often times we hoard them. We keep them in our drawers or they sit in our closets or our attics, instead of bringing them in for recycling, and the fact that they sit there means we know we’re not supposed to throw them away, but we’re not necessarily sure what we are supposed to do with them.”

For some products, like cell phones, it’s important to recycle them as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it is for recycling companies to make money off them, because they get outdated. If you want to find a place to recycle your phone and rechargeable batteries, Call2Recycle has a network of 30,000 collection sites nationwide, including 740 sites in Michigan.

Pollock says this year there’s been a sharp increase in rechargeable battery recycling in the American south, a place where recycling has been slow to take off. She says it’s not clear why that’s happening. Michigan is in the middle of the pack, but there’s been a very slight decrease in battery recycling, about 1%. So far this year, Michiganders have recycled just over 71,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries through Call2Recycle.

Tanya Ott, the Environment Report.

Host:The Consumer Electronics Association says the average household has about 24 different types of electronic devices. Most of these TVs, computers and cell phones eventually end up in the garbage.

Special thanks to Suzy Vuljevich for her production help on this story.

Rebecca Williams, the Environment Report.