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How to recycle old computers, phones and other gadgets

How, where and why to recycle electronics.

There’s gold in those laptops!

Q) Which has more gold and copper?
        a. circuit boards 
        b. raw ore mined for these metals
A) Circuit boards!

Circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper as the equivalent weight of ore mined in the US.

In addition, recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 US homes for a year [1].

Want to learn more? Check out the short video, The Story of Electronics.

How to start recycling electronics at your workplacesmall electronics recycling poster thumbnail

  1. Set up collection area.
    • Find an empty box.
    • Place box in easy to access area.
    • Label the box with a poster about microelectronics recycling.
  2. Decide where your business will take microelectronics.
  3. Create a plan for who will take the microelectronics when the collection box fills.
  4. Let coworkers know about microelectronics recycling, and show them the collection box.

Donate vs. Recycle

Donate: Many electronics can be donated, refurbished and used again. Free Geek is a great local option, just be sure to call in advance to ensure they can accept your e-waste: 503-232-9350. Donations to Free Geek are tax deductible and pickups can be arranged for a small fee.

Recycle: Broken or unusable electronics can be recycled and component parts made into something else. Find the nearest drop-off recycling locations through Metro's Find a Recycler or Oregon E-cycles.

To remove personal or sensitive information before donating or recycling your electronics,

  • Call Metro at 503-234-3000 for options to have data removed.
  • Free Geek takes data security very seriously: all data containing gadgets are either wiped clean using Department of Defense standards or are destroyed (safely) on-site.

tvs, computers, pritners, scannersLarger electronics

Contact Oregon E-Cycles for free drop-off locations for

  • Personal computers, monitors, laptops and tablets
  • Computer peripherals – keyboards and mice
  • TVs, including VHS or DVD/TV combos
  • Printers, fax machines and large scanners

These must be recycled separately:

To recycle like a pro, here's what you need to know

What to keep out of your recycling bin, where your recycling goes after it gets picked up, and how to reuse before recycling.

7 things to keep out of your recycling bin

  1. Plastic bags
  2. Plastic lids
  3. Plastic clamshells
  4. Frozen and refrigerated food boxes
  5. Paper cups
  6. Pizza boxes
  7. Batteries, of any kind

Why shouldn’t these go in? Find out.

Bottom line: When in doubt, keep it out. Recycling right is more important than recycling more, because putting the wrong thing in the bin (like plastic bags) can cause big problems (like jamming the machines that sort recycling).

A behind-the-scenes look at where your recycling goes

Once your recycling leaves your work or home bin, that jumble of paper, metal and plastic, all has to be sorted. The sorting involves conveyor belts, blowing air, giant magnets, and sorting by hand. See it here:

Vinod Singh explains how recyclables are sorted at Hillsboro's Far West Recycling, and where they go from there.

Once the recycling is sorted into material type – paper, cardboard, metal, etc. – then it’s sold to buyers in the region and around the world to be made into new products.

Read more.

Before recycling, can any items be reused?

We often focus on recycling, yet it’s actually at the bottom of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy.

If you want to save energy, water and resources, the best thing you can do is reduce the items you consume (products, packaging) and then reuse the items as many times as possible.

Learn more and then check out Portland’s many free and low-cost reuse, swap, repair and share organizations.

Thanks to our program partner, Metro, who produced the articles and videos referenced here.

What to do with an old CFL? Recycle it (safely)

Tips for recycling old CFL bulbs

cartoon fluorescent lightsFluorescent lights are energy efficient and long-lasting, but they also contain mercury and lead, so they should be handled cautiously and disposed of safely.

When your fluorescent light bulbs flicker and fade, recycling them properly keeps you safe, and allows most of the glass, metal and mercury to be reused.

What to do when a fluorescent light bulb burns out

  1. Carefully remove the bulb and mark an “X” so you can quickly identify old bulbs when you grab a new one.
  2. Store used bulbs in a safe place that keeps them intact. Broken bulbs release hazardous waste and require special attention.
  3. Properly recycle used bulbs within one year.

Where to recycle bulbs

Contact your property manager or garbage company to see if they can recycle fluorescent bulbs for you.

Use Metro's Find a Recycler search tool to find a nearby facility that collects and recycles fluorescent bulbs. 

 How to start recycling fluorescent light bulbs

  1. Set up a bulb collection area:CFL recycling poster
    • Find a cardboard box: for tube lights, the box the bulbs came in works well. For smaller bulbs, any box will do.
    • Place box in a safe area where it won’t get knocked around.
    • Label the box with a poster about proper CFL handling.
  2. Find where your business will recycle the bulbs.
  3. Create a plan for who will take the bulbs to be recycled when the collection box fills.
  4. Let coworkers and janitorial staff know about CFL recycling, and show them the bulb collection area.

And what about LED bulbs?

If you’re looking for a replacement bulb, LEDs are even more efficient and longer-lasting than CFLs.

When an LED bulb burns out, it’s safe to throw it in the garbage.* Or, you can collect LEDs and find a recycler who can recycle them. (They can have quite a bit of nickel, which makes them worth recycling.) As with any bulb, they should NOT be put in with your mixed or glass recycling.

*Colored LEDs (red, blue, etc.) can contain lead and arsenic, so should be disposed of through a recycler that can process them safely, rather than thrown in the trash.

EcoChallenge 2016: Get your co-workers excited about sustainability

This October’s EcoChallenge is a fun, free tool to get your coworkers to try a new green practice.


2016 EcoChallenge Details

When: October 14-28
What: Choose a new sustainable action to take, at home or at work, for two weeks.
How: Create a team – even if it’s just two people – and register. Bonus: it’s free!
Why: Build team spirit and get into new (good) habits.

Why join the Challenge?

The Northwest Earth Institute’s annual EcoChallenge is a great way to engage your workplace around sustainability – it’s no wonder over 15,000 people and businesses have taken the challenge!

This friendly peer-to-peer competition builds enthusiasm for workplace sustainability and is a good way to kickstart or strengthen sustainability initiatives.

What does the Challenge involve?

You choose one action to reduce your impact and stick with it for two weeks. The challenge action(s) people choose can take place outside of work and still contribute to your workplace team.

You pick your challenge and set a goal that stretches your comfort zone and makes a difference for you, your community and the planet. Common wisdom says it takes two weeks to change a habit: if you can stick with a new behavior for 14 days in a row, you’re a lot more likely to keep it up forever.

EcoChallengers share their progress and earn points for taking action. The combination of collective inspiration, camaraderie and friendly competition makes change a little easier and a lot more fun. 

See what other businesses have taken on the challenge!

EcoChallenge actions

What are the challenge actions?

There are many different actions to choose from across six categories: waste, transportation, energy, water, food, community, nature and simplicity – or create your own action.

A few example actions include: use a reusable coffee mug, take a short (5-minute) shower, volunteer in the community, eat meatless meals, or turn down your thermostat. More challenging actions include: Reduce clutter in your home and donate unwanted goods, research or take steps to insulate your home or upgrade to an electric car, or install a rain garden in your yard.

“It’s amazing how all of us changing a minor habit can have such a huge impact on our environment in so many different ways.”
– EcoChallenge Participant

How to participate

1. Register for the EcoChallenge

2. Connect with your team. To start your workplace team, select “start a team” and NWEI will help you invite coworkers to join (find tips for being a Team Captain). Or, select “join a team” to join an existing team. *If your workplace doesn’t have a team, you can join the Sustainability at Work Team.

3. Choose your EcoChallenge action(s).

4. Make a plan to achieve your EcoChallenge. Think through what you’ll need to take your new action. If you need to prepare anything, get it ready now so it’s easy from day one!

5. Share your participation far and wide. Let family, friends, and coworkers know what you’re doing and invite them to join!

6. On October 14, start working on your challenge goals and log in daily to chart your progress.

Did you know you can compete against another team? Team captains can challenge another team, and the team with the greatest number of EcoChallenge points wins. Do you share a building with other businesses? Get to know your neighbors through some friendly competition.

How to engage your co-workers

Take the lead in creating a workplace team, and then follow these helpful tips to get your co-workers involved. Download printable posters and other promotional materials to help get the word out.

Relive that first-day-of-school excitement

Find your people at GoGreen and get in the team spirit with EcoChallenge.

Remember when you were excited for the first day of school? This October offers two ways to experience it again.

Find your people

GoGreen speakers

Do you remember when you finally found "your people?" Whether they were the nerds or the jocks, the socialites or the rebels, they understood you, you understood them, and it felt good.

If you're reading this, you probably want to do good in your work — whether that’s getting your coworkers to recycle, giving back to the community, or solving global challenges. Sometimes it may feel like you're the only one who cares. But you're not alone! You just have to find your people.

And one of the best places to find your people is at the GoGreen Conference on October 5. You'll meet others who care about doing good at work—some who are just starting, and others who have been at it for a while and are doing really impressive things (kind of like that cool kid you always looked up to).

So take a look at this year's conference program and get 30 percent off your ticket with code SAW.

Fresh start, big goals

EcoChallenge actions

If you played sports in school, or were on the debate team, or in the school play, you know how it feels to start the new year fresh, feeling like you have another chance to work hard and reach your goals.

Relive that feeling with this October's EcoChallenge. It's meant to help you pick a new green habit—something you've probably felt like you should do, like taking shorter showers or biking to work, but haven't gotten around to yet—and cheerlead you through two weeks of doing it.

You can go it alone, but it's even better to do as a team. Much like the team activities of your youth, it's more fun to do things together, and it's nice to have others pushing you to do your best.

Start building your team now, at work, or with family or friends.

Team fight song optional (but recommended).