Firth’s take on tech: How to recycle your old technology

David Firth

In honor of Earth Day and Arbor Day, this week’s column is about how to recycle your old technology. Research shows that less than 30 percent of the electronics we buy gets recycled or reused, which is over 50 million tons a year.  As the recent Atlantic article on the global eWaste problem asked: “Who even remembers what they did with their first (or third, or fifth) iPhone?”

Here are three ways to reduce your eWaste footprint: sell, recycle, donate.

There is actually a very decent market for old tech.  You have plenty of ways to sell your old technology including eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, OfferUp, Decluttr and Amazon.  I’ve sold my old iPhones on Amazon. They make it very easy indeed, too.

What I did was look up what I had to sell on Amazon, and below the buying options you will find a button that says “Have one to sell?”  Click on that and you’re already started on listing your item on Amazon. Once listed you wait until Amazon lets you know that someone wants your item. You box, print off a shipping label, and drop at UPS or USPS and wait for the payment to come in.   They take a reasonably large percentage of the sale, but the fact that you don’t even have to take photos, worry about shipping costs, or getting your money made this a simple and effective option for me.

Before you sell any digital device, be it a cellphone or laptop, make sure you take some pretty simple steps to protect your privacy.  For your cellphones you should preform a factory reset. That’s an available option in your settings. You should know that typically the option is hiding right at the bottom of one of the settings options, usually requiring you to actually scroll down to it.  They do this so that you can’t accidentally activate this feature. If you’re unsure how to get to what you need then YouTube, as per usual, is your friend: just search for the device you have and include “factory reset.”

Can you sell a phone with a smashed screen?  Of course! Just make sure that you are clear the screen is broken and price accordingly.  You could, of course, take this opportunity to learn how to replace broken screens. I’ve fixed four or five on the iPhones we own.  It’s much easier than you’d imagine but does need some hand-eye coordination and some tweezer dexterity.

I have bought replacement screens for three different sources, but have found that the ones from shop.iCracked.com are the best.  iCracked also has easily the best videos on how to do a screen replacement, so I feel good sending them my business for providing that service to me. An iPhone 6 replacement screen costs $49.99, includes all the tools you need, and takes about 40 minutes start to finish.  As you can imagine, fixing a broken screen for $50 easily makes the phone way quite a bit more than $50 more when you sell it.

Recycling is another option if you are looking for a really easy way to get rid of your stack of electronics.  You should still make sure your factory reset your phones. For laptops, I recommend you actually remove the hard drive.  That could be chock full of juicy details on your bank accounts and photos of you and your family. Again, YouTube is your friend on how to do this, and you’ll also usually need a screwdriver.  Typically, this is at most four screens and a bit of pulling to get the drive out. I just called Staples Missoula to check and they indeed do “recycle most electronic items”, but not old tube TVs or big LCD TVs.

Most electronics for recycling gets shipped off to an Asian country for the parts to be stripped out and reused. If you’d like things to be actually be put to use in the form they currently exist, then donating might be a good choice for you.  I like the World Computer Exchange (www.WorldComputerExchange) which has “already helped nearly 5 million young people in 3,350 schools, youth centers, libraries, and universities in 48 countries connect with the opportunities, skills, and understanding of the internet.” This is not for smartphones, unfortunately.

You can also donate your old computers at Goodwill here in Missoula where the computer company Dell has partnered with them so that computers that are “ in working condition are refurbished and resold through Goodwill, creating green jobs to further support Goodwill’s mission of helping people with disabilities and disadvantages by providing education, training and career services.”

David Firth is a professor of management information systems in the College of Business at the University of Montana and a faculty fellow with Advanced Technology Group in Missoula.