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How to recycle electronics in Wisconsin
Many electronics can no longer be put in the trash in Wisconsin and must be reused, recycled or managed as hazardous waste. The information below will help you prepare your electronics for reuse or recycling, find an electronics collection site or contact a recycler for larger volumes of e-waste.
For businesses, schools, institutions, non-profits and governments , especially if you have a large number of items to recycle, see the DNR publication Managing Used Electronics for more information on your options.
Prepare to recycle
Preparing electronics for reuse or recycling
Make a list of the electronics you would like to get rid of and their age and condition. Think about when you would like to get rid of the electronics and whether you will be able to transport them yourself or need to have them picked up.
If computers or other electronics are in good working condition, you may be able to donate them to a school, nonprofit or other organization. Call any organization first to make sure the equipment would be useful to them.
If your electronics are broken or obsolete and cannot be reused, recycle them.
Destroying personal or sensitive data
Before recycling or reusing electronics, make sure personal, financial or other sensitive data are erased from the equipment. Many recyclers have a system for erasing data. You can also find free or inexpensive software to "wipe" your hard drive. Just deleting files will not clear them off of your computer. Ask a computer software retailer for more information.
Choosing the right recycler for you
Not all recyclers take all types of electronics and some recyclers are more responsible than others. It is up to you to choose a legitimate recycler that meets your needs.
Before taking your electronics to a collection site or recycler, find out what they recycle, who they accept electronics from, what they charge to recycle various items, if they offer pick-up service and how they destroy data.
When you are recycling a large volume of electronics, it’s a good idea to talk with at least two or three recyclers to get a sense of your options.
Selecting an environmentally responsible recycler
Many electronics contain harmful materials, and it’s important to make sure recyclers are handling electronics properly to ensure worker safety. It’s also important to make sure a recycler is sending electronic components on to responsible “downstream” processors to minimize any chance of environmental pollution.
When choosing a recycler, consider asking the following questions:
- What do you do with the electronics you collect?
- What steps do you take to ensure worker safety?
- What do you do to make sure hazardous electronic parts are not landfilled or incinerated in the United States or overseas?
Recyclers registered with E-Cycle Wisconsin meet a set of environmental standards set by the DNR. Some recyclers have gone through an independently audited process to become certified under R2 or e-Stewards, nationally recognized standards for responsible recycling.
Find a recycler
Find an electronics collection site
Electronics from Wisconsin households, K-12 public schools and Parental Choice Program schools may be recycled through E-Cycle Wisconsin. Some of the collectors and recyclers registered under E-Cycle Wisconsin also accept electronics from businesses, colleges and universities, and others not part of E-Cycle Wisconsin. You can use filters to limit the list to sites that accept from businesses, schools or others.
Additional recycling options
If there is no E-Cycle Wisconsin collection site near you, or you have a large quantity of devices and need to work directly with a recycler, the following resources can help. In addition, some electronics, such as cell phones, are often recycled at retail stores, and some electronics manufacturers offer mail-back programs for their brands of electronics.
- List of registered E-Cycle Wisconsin recyclers
- Greener Gadgets is a site from the Consumer Electronics Association that allows consumers to search for electronics recyclers by location and product type
- Earth911 has resources for electronics recycling, including a search function that lets you find recyclers in your area
- Call2Recycle allows you to enter your city or ZIP code and find drop-off sites for cell phones and rechargeable batteries
- The Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory contains listings for some electronics recyclers
Reuse and resale options
If your unwanted electronics are relatively new and in good working condition, you may be able to donate them for reuse or sell them. Many electronics retailers and websites offer trade-in or buy-back programs for items such as smartphones, mp3 players and digital cameras.
Before donating items, make sure the organization is willing to accept the items. Often, schools, churches and non-profits cannot use older computers, TVs or other electronics.
What to recycle
Electronics to recycle in Wisconsin
The following electronics can no longer be put in the trash in Wisconsin, or sent to Wisconsin landfills and incinerators. These items should be reused, donated or recycled.
- Computers (desktop, laptop, netbook and tablet computers)
- Desktop printers (including those that scan, fax and/or copy)
- Computer monitors
- Other computer accessories (including mice, keyboards and speakers)
- DVD players, VCRs and DVRs
- Fax machines
- Cell phones
- Major appliances, including air conditioners, clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, stoves, ovens, dehumidifiers, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and microwave ovens
Many other types of electronics can also be recycled, especially items like stereo equipment, mp3 players, digital cameras and other hand-held devices. Check with your electronics recycler or collection site for a full list of what they accept. Some websites or stores may also offer small amounts of money if you trade in newer gadgets, like digital cameras smartphones and iPods.
State law prohibits businesses or institutions from disposing of any electronics that contain hazardous materials in municipal solid waste landfills or incinerators. If businesses and institutions do not recycle electronic equipment, they are subject to state solid and hazardous waste management rules and may require licenses from the DNR for transportation and treatment, storage or disposal of the equipment.
Why recycle electronics: valuable and toxic materials
The demand for new tablet computers, cell phones, laptops and flat screen TVs is driving a significant electronic waste, or e-waste, problem. E-waste is one of the fastest growing parts of municipal solid waste worldwide.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that about 2.37 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products were ready for recycling, reuse or disposal in 2009. Of these electronics, only about 25 percent (by weight) were collected for recycling. Most were thrown away, primarily in landfills.
Electronics contain valuable reusable materials including plastics, metals and glass. Recycling or reusing these materials lessens environmental impacts and economic costs by reducing the need for virgin materials in new products.
Many electronics also contain harmful materials, including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, other heavy metals and chemical flame retardants. When improperly disposed of, these chemicals can pollute our soil and water and harm human health.
Improperly handled e-waste may also pose health risks to workers in the United States and in developing countries.
Responsible recycling in action
When electronics are recycled instead of landfilled, their components get reused in new products. Watch the video below to see how it's done.
Electronics recycling educational posters
Anyone is welcome to order free, printed copies of these posters or other electronics recycling publications using the E-Cycle Wisconsin publication request form.