I’d be willing to bet that there are very few people out there who don’t have an old Motorola StarTac in a kitchen drawer or a pale, yellowish 14-inch CRT monitor in the basement or a sticky, dusty keyboard under the bed. I’m just like you — probably worse. I have gadgets from the Reagan administration that are serving no good purpose other than to take up space in my already sorta-small apartment.
Time for some spring cleaning, no? The focus of this post will be to spotlight various ways to get rid of three types of gadgets; broken ones, working but worthless ones, and working but valuable ones. I’ll focus on programs that are available nationwide (or mostly nationwide) and aren’t brand- or product-specific.
The temptation may be to either throw your broken doodads right into the trash or, if you’re like me, hold on to them forever while you wait for the day that you’re finally able to solder. I constantly find myself saying “Oh, that just needs to be re-soldered.” But do I even own a soldering gun? Absolutely not. And throwing electronics in the garbage is just poor form, like smoking at a day care center; some people still do it, but everyone knows it’s bad. Gadgets contain harmful chemicals like mercury and kryptonite, which wreak havoc on the environment.
Check out the E-cycling Central website for the location of your nearest electronics recycling center. Many are located near your city dump. Some take electronics for free, while others charge a small fee for certain items. I know that when I moved from Minneapolis to Boston, the recycling center in Bloomington, MN took five of each kind of item for free over a twelve month period, so I dropped off a bunch of CRT monitors, printers, and old computers.
1-800-Got-Junk is, by far, the easiest and best way I’ve found to get rid of a LOT of crap quickly and without lifting a finger. It’s not cheap — a full truck can cost over $500 — but it’s a really great service. You basically call the number or go online and make an appointment, then two guys show up and you point at what you want thrown away. They do all the rest. Pricing is by the load, ranging from around $150 for 1/8 of a truck on up to maybe $700 or $800 depending upon where you live. In Minneapolis, a full truck was about $500 but here in Boston, it tops out at $628. There’s also a $15 surcharge for tube-based televisions and monitors, so keep that in mind.
Still, they take just about anything and if you have the money, it’s well worth it.
For smaller, broken electronics like cell phones and PDAs, try your local post office. The USPS announced a program back in March called “Mail Back,” which lets you drop off small electronic items at 1,500 participating branches for free.
Be sure to check out your local electronics stores, too, as most of them have drop buckets for old, broken cell phones and other various in-store recycling programs.
Working But Worthless Gadgets
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. For every busted, broken, cracked-screen gadget you own, there are probably hundreds of eager tinkerers out there willing to try to fix whatever needs fixing. Here are some good ways to unload this stuff.
It’s pretty much like it sounds. The Freecycle Network is made up of almost five million worldwide members with groups in just about every area. It’s free and non-profit, too. You basically sign up, post something you want to get rid of, and someone else in the group can come and pick it up. You can also post things that you want and if someone else in the group has what you’re looking for, they can contact you to come and get it.
Local factions use Yahoo! Groups and, again, sign-up is free. Might as well join, huh?
Similar to Freecycle, but maybe even easier. Anything goes, too. You’ll see postings (and you can leave your own postings) saying stuff like “Free Canon Bubble Jet Printer: It’s on the curb outside my house. Come and get it any time. Don’t come anywhere near my house, though. Don’t knock. I don’t have any more stuff for you.”
Basically, you have to consider whether or not you want strangers to know where you live and that you have a bunch of electronics in your house. This is where a members-only group like Freecycle seems a little less dicey.
I think that one of the best aspects of being a gadget freak is that, often times, you can sell your used items and use the money you make to buy newer ones. It’s the circle of life — the wheel of for-tune, if you will. Here are a few places to make a buck.
If you haven’t heard of eBay, then you probably aren’t reading this post either so what the hell do I care what you think? Go back to your cave or under your rock or inside your cave made of what basically amounts to a large, overhanging rock.
eBay’s gotten a recent makeover and selling stuff has gotten a bit easier with its much more streamlined interface. You have a bit of control over when you’ll get your cash but not as much control over how much cash you’ll get, since you’re selling stuff at auction. There’s also a Buy-It-Now setting that allows you to sell stuff at a fixed rate, but I’ve found that if you set up a 5- to 7-day auction that ends on a Sunday night and has a starting price of 99 cents and no reserve price, you’ll get the best return on your stuff. I’ve sold a lot of stuff on eBay and this tactic seems to work best for me.
There are other auction sites out there and you can sell your stuff on sites like Amazon.com similar to how eBay works. Try eBay first, though.
Second Rotation is a fairly popular site that allows you to look up gadgets you already own, and then rate them based on condition and whether or not you have all the included accessories and manuals. You’ll then get an estimated price and, if you accept, you’ll print out a free UPS shipping label, put your stuff in a box, and ship it off to Second Rotation. When your package is received, Second Rotation will review your items to make sure they’re in the same condition you said they were and then, once approved, they’ll drop some money in your Paypal account or cut you a check.
You won’t get quite as much for your stuff as you would on, say, eBay, but the process is a lot easier. You can ship all of your crap to the same place for free and you won’t have to chase buyers around for payments or worry about your seller rating. Downsides include that Second Rotation’s rating of your items’ condition is a bit subjective. What you may think is in mint condition, they might think is in fair condition.
Speaking of which, there’s also EZTradein.com — which uses the Dealtree system. Many manufacturers and retailers use Dealtree, allowing you to trade in an old gadget for credit towards something from their store. Best Buy uses it, Sony uses it, Gateway uses it, etc. Here’s a complete list.
But EZTradein.com uses Dealtree and offers cash instead of store cr
edit. I recently tested out the service by sending in an old video camera (a Canon GL-1) and, although I thought was in excellent condition, EZTradein.com said it had small scratches on the LCD screen and docked me over $100 from my take. Payment was a bit slow, too. I shipped the camera out on March 22, the company acknowledged receiving it on March 27, and I didn’t get paid until April 10. It was an okay experience but I don’t know if I’d use it again. However, there are a LOT of items that you can sell, which is a nice touch.
For those of you who like to use truncated versions of longer words, there’s BuyMyTronics.com, which is very similar to Second Rotation. If I’m not mistaken, the site was initially started as BuyMyBrokeniPod.com and would accept used iPods — whether working or not — and then resell them. The site accepts a limited selection of cell phones, game consoles, and iPhone/iPod products and promises two-day payment once your product is received.
These are just a few methods you can use to get rid of your stuff for free or low cost (or high cost, in the case of 1-800 Got Junk) and even a few ways to make some money back on your old gadgets. There are undoubtedly hundreds of other ways to recycle your electronics responsibly so if you know of a good one, leave a comment!