Most people upgrade their cell phones every two years when they get a new contract from their wireless carrier. That means every two years, they have an old cell phone they don’t use.

Additionally, many people upgrade other electronics like laptops, desktop computers, mp3 players, and tablets on a regular basis. As technology improves, people want to buy shiny, new devices to replace broken, slow equipment. The old equipment that people no longer want is called technotrash, or electronic waste.

But what should you do with your old laptop that no longer holds a charge? You don’t want to keep it, but you have a vague idea that it can do damage in a landfill.

Lucky for you, we have the answer.

What happens when you throw away technotrash?

Technotrash is the most rapidly-growing category of waste. When you throw your gadgets away with the regular trash, you are basically sending it to a landfill. Most recently-made electronics are made to be as small as possible, so they don’t have removable or reusable parts. If your electronics don’t work anymore, you may feel like your only option is to toss it.

Unfortunately, most electronic devices are mainly composed of non-biodegradable materials like plastic and aluminum. They also can contain heavy metals and toxic materials like mercury, lead, and cadmium. These toxic chemicals can leach into the ground and groundwater, especially in a poorly maintained landfill.

If toxic chemicals from your electronics enter the groundwater, they can affect crops, local plants, and wild animals. They can enter the food we eat and the water we drink.

What are the effects of technotrash in landfills?

When humans ingest toxic materials like heavy metals, the symptoms vary depending on the type of toxin. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and (in extreme cases of prolonged exposure) cancer.

You should avoid eating animals that have ingested heavy metals as well as plants that have been exposed to heavy metals. If you eat contaminated food, the toxins build up in your system and take years to properly flush out of your body.

How should you dispose of technotrash safely?

While you can’t prevent everyone with a smartphone from throwing away their old technology in a dumpster, you can educate yourself and others near you about how to properly dispose of technotrash.

Check local recycling centers to see if they accept old technology. You can also search the web to see if local electronics and appliances stores have recycling programs. Most of the time you won’t be charged to donate an old laptop or video game to a recycling program.

Here are some tips for what to do with specific electronic devices:

Erase Your Hard Drive

Before you donate, be sure to wipe all data from your hard drive. You don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to cyber-attack by doing a good deed. Some dishonest people can take your donated hard drive and use any personal information they find.

To delete your files, start by moving all your files and folders into the trash can on your computer. Then you need to run a program that “sanitizes” your hard drive. The program replaces your data with a useless jumble of nonsense data, so your information is truly erased.

Donate Your Mobile Device

Your old mobile device may not have all the latest features, but it might still work well enough for someone in need. Find a charity that takes old cell phones, tablets, smart phones, and mp3 players.

Some charities recycle old mobile devices to keep toxins from entering the environment. Other charities refurbish old cell phones and tablets to military servicemen who are overseas so they can talk to their families.

Get Money for Metal

Many recycling centers pay you for metals like gold, silver, and copper. Some electronics contain these precious metals. You could potentially make money from an old busted computer instead of throwing it away.

Reuse Ink Cartridges

Many stores that sell ink cartridges also offer refill services, so you can refill an old cartridge with new ink. This saves you money, as a refill tends to be a fraction of the cost of a new cartridge. Be sure to refill your cartridge quickly, as dry ink can prevent it from being properly refilled. Also, a cartridge can only take so many refills before it starts to degrade.

What to Do Next

The best way to avoid contributing to technotrash is to be smart about your electronics purchases. Desktop computers have large parts that can be replaced and reused, so they produce less technotrash.

Wait to upgrade your electronic devices. Try bringing your devices into a service to be repaired rather than upgrading at the smallest sign of wear.

Choose recyclable products and buy recycled or refurbished products. Just because a computer is used doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Many refurbished models of computers work as well as brand new models, and they’re usually more affordable.

By practicing these techniques, you can cut back on your technotrash and keep the environment safe.