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Cell phones, laptops and holiday lights are items many American households buy new every year, but what do you do with the old ones? 

Keeping electronics out of landfills is vitally important to the health of people, animals, and the environment. Cell phones and laptops contain mercury, lead and 500 other dangerous chemicals that once released when you chuck them in the trash, can cause serious harm. Christmas lights pollute landfills not only with toxic chemicals like lead and bromine, but they present a tangle hazard. When these toxic chemicals leach into the soil and are taken up by food crops, they end up on your dinner plate.

What’s the Big Deal?

In high enough levels, lead causes delayed mental development, stomach aches, chronic fatigue, and memory loss. Leached into oceans, toxic chemicals end up in the marine food chain and eventually into cans of fish. Researchers have been keeping an eye on mercury levels in canned tuna, and even have a chart recommending how much time you should let lapse between tuna casserole servings.

Yuck.

So what should you do with it’s time to replace these items? Especially with gift-giving season just weeks away? Instead of cluttering up your garage with boxes of spent technology, these ideas are all the buzz.

Old Cell Phone

Repurpose It

From a cheap security camera to a child’s gaming device, to a permanent electronic map in your car, just because a cell phone can’t make calls anymore doesn’t mean it can’t be repurposed. Check out this ingenious article with eight ways you can skip expensive equipment by simply repurposing your old phone.

Another idea? Keep it in your purse or pocket in case you’re mugged. Along with a wallet stuffed with a canceled credit card–or even better, the fake ones sent by credit card offers–an old phone can save your life. Toss them both on the ground if you’re ever mugged and run. 

Donate It to Charity

Nothing sparkles with holiday spirit more than giving. While your old phone may not have much use for you, it can still have plenty of use for veterans, senior citizens, or medical workers. Check out these charities that thrive with cell phone donations. 

Recycle It

When a phone is beyond repair or just too obsolete to function, your best option is old-fashioned recycling. Here are two organizations that will not only keep toxic elements out of a landfill, but will use your cell phone to create good in the world.

Eco-Cell 

This ingenious organization and its partners use cell phone recycling to protect endangered gorilla habitat. Remember Jane Goodall and Dian Fossy? Yup. It’s them.

Smart Phone Recycling

This helpful organization has it all, free shipping, donations of good phones to soldiers in the field, and recycling. No matter what condition your cell phone is, Smart Phone Recycling will make sure it benefits a soldier.

Whether you donate or recycle, do a factory reset first to delete any personal information. If your phone won’t turn on, check with an expert for how to wipe the data.

Old Laptop

There’s hardly anything more exciting than getting an upgraded laptop as a holiday gift. Now, what’s the eco-friendly way of getting rid of the old one? You have three choices: donate it, repurpose it, or recycle it.

Donate

If your laptop is less than five years old, the best bet is to find someone who can use it. Nearly any non-profit, charity organization, or school will gladly put that laptop to good use. Get a receipt and your donation could be tax deductible.

Repurpose it

As long as your screen is in good working order, your old laptop can be a wonderful office accessory. Turn it into an external monitor for your current workspace so you can have several desktops open at once. Or, load up your photos and add some joy to your office with a digital photo frame. (Now that sounds marvelously distracting!)

Recycle it

Last resort, recycle. Check for local electronics recycling facilities near you, or ask your retailer if they have a buyback program when you purchase your new laptop. Gold, silver, and platinum can be mined from the belly of that old laptop, refurbished, and used again in new electronics. 

Whether you donate or recycle your old laptop, always be sure to wipe the hard drive first. Be on the look out for unscrupulous offers to recycle your laptop. If they don’t tell you to wipe the hard drive, they could be hackers looking to steal your sensitive information.

For more information about recycling your laptop, check out this advice from Treehugger.

Old Holiday Lights

Why is it that a perfectly good strand of lights will have those six in the middle that just won’t light up? Arg! Or maybe they were working fine last year, but this year, not a single bulb lights up. Time for new lights. What should you do with the old ones? Don’t throw them in the trash! These ideas instead.

Recycle Them

Big box stores know people feel warm and fuzzy (as they should!) when they recycle, so look for tree light recycling bins wherever holiday lights are sold. Your old lights will be taken to a local recycling facility.

Donate Them

If your lights are in pretty good shape, your local Goodwill, Salvation Army or thrift shop will love them. They can be used for product displays, or if they’re in good enough shape, resale.

Repurpose them

Old holiday lights make for a funky, ambient mood taped under cabinetry in the kitchen or outside on the patio. If you’re the crafty sort, old holiday lights can make for some illuminating homemade decorations, like a mantle marquee, glowing paper lantern, or a sparkling wreath

No matter what you do with your old cell phones, laptops or holiday lights, if you’re reading this, you have made this choice NOT to put them in a landfill. That’s a choice that benefits us all. Thank you, Earth Angel!

empty pro-tek bottle sitting on a counter

Empty Pro-Tek jug? Don’t recycle it! Refill it! We’ll give you a 25% discount and ship it back to you FREE.