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Recycling Old Electronics Is Free In Washington And Might Even Earn You Some Cash

After the holiday gift-giving frenzy, many people look to get rid of old electronic devices. Most contain toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury, so you shouldn’t throw them in the trash. Responsibly disposing of them is free in Washington. And you may even be able to turn an extra gadget into instant cash.

Industry estimates say millions of devices are sitting in people’s junk drawers. And Bellevue-based Outerwall, which also runs the Coinstar machines and Redbox movie kiosks you see in grocery stores, now operates something called Eco-ATMs. Company spokeswoman Debby Fry Wilson says they facilitate smart recycling that is instantly rewarding.

“So you can take your MP3 players, your tablets and mobile phones that you no longer have a use for and turn it in for instant cash,” Fry Wilson said.   

Outerwall now operates more than 1,500 Eco-ATM kiosks nationwide, seven of them at malls in the Puget Sound region. A newer cell phone might get you hundreds of dollars. (You can check competing sites, such as gazelle.com or swappa.com, for pricing comparisons for the option of mailing in devices.) Many older devices aren’t actually worth anything, in which case Outerwall offers to responsibly recycle them. The company has pledged to collect at least two million pounds of devices over the next three years and help divert e-waste from landfills. 

“That is a niche that does need filling,” said Miles Kuntz, who manages the E-Cycle Washington program for the state Department of Ecology.

The program has been taking back e-waste at no cost to consumers since 2009. There are 340 drop off locations statewide, which work with recycling partners that the department of Ecology vets to ensure the dismantling is safe. You can find a location by searching on the program website.

E-Cycle Washington is paid for by fees from manufacturers. It has collected nearly 5.5 million devices over the past six years, most of which are old TVs and computer monitors that contain lead-filled cathode ray tubes. The program also takes laptops and tablets, but cellphones and MP3 players are not covered. Neither are computer keyboards or mice. Still, Kuntz says they should be kept out of landfills.

“There’s a lot of reuseable resources that are going to waste when we throw electronics away. And some of the materials are toxic and they don’t belong in the environment or in our food chain,” he said.

He says reuse is still the best form of recycling, so donating working devices to charities is a good bet. The state also operates a 1-800 Recycle database that can tell you how to get rid of just about anything.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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