If you haven’t heard, Apple has officially murdered the lightning charger. The days of carrying multiple cords around with you to charge your iPhone, MacBook and iPad are over. Now, you can charge them all with the sleek USB-C cable. Thank Alex Agius Saliba of the European Union for bringing this much-needed simplification to our cord-carrying lives.
But what are you going to do with all those old cords?
E-waste is a huge issue, not just for the U.S. but for the entire planet. The Roundup reports that people generated 57.4 million Metric Tons of e-waste in 2021—and that number is growing by two million Metric Tons a year. According to the BBC, only 17% of e-waste gets recycled worldwide. Many of these unrecycled electronics sit in drawers, but some of them end up in landfills where they leech toxic elements like lead, mercury, and cadmium into our soils and groundwater.
The truth is—many of our dead electronics contain useful and valuable metals that we should reuse like gold, silver, copper, and iron.
So, how should you dispose of that useless nest of old lightning cords you’ve been squirreling away in your ‘cords’ box? And for that matter, how are you going to get rid of that old iPhone you’ve been holding onto for no particular reason since 2009?
Here are some recycling options that will help you free up some space without contributing to the landfill. But REMEMBER: Before recycling any electronics ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS do a factory reset on them to wipe them clean of personal information.
GET CASH FOR YOUR OLD GADGETS
Jenn has written about this option extensively. Gazelle is a really cool service that either recycles OR refurbishes your phone for someone else to buy, and they give you cash for your old gear.
How it works: Fill out all the info about the iPhone, computer, or tablet you want to sell here. They’ll send you a pre-paid shipping label so you can send them your electronics, and once they inspect them, they send you the cash.
Gazelle also partners with eco-ATM, which works pretty similarly. Visit the eco-ATM website to establish how much cash they will give you for your old electronics. Once you have that info, use their mapping tool to find the nearest ATM location. And voila! You’ve freed up some storage space in your closet.
A VERY CONVENIENT OPTION
Best Buy has a very robust e-waste recycling program. Some of the recycling has fees attached, but these are generally bigger objects like desktop monitors and TVs. Just bring batteries, cords, and old phones into the store and recycle them for free. Don’t live near a Best Buy? You can mail them your e-waste. They also have a tool that allows you to calculate whether or not your electronics still have value for trade-in.
If you plan to bring them a lot of electronics, make sure to read the fine print on their website. They only allow you to bring in a certain amount of e-waste per day before they start charging.
A NEW SERVICE THAT COMES TO YOU FOR YOUR OLD LIGHTNING CORDS
Ridwell is a relatively new weekly service that recycles items that can’t go into traditional recycling. (If they aren’t in your town, yet they will be soon.) The logistics of it are pretty simple. Ridwell drops off a ‘Ridwell box’ with bags specifically labeled for items like, “batteries,” “lightbulbs,” “textiles,” “electronics” or “soft plastics.” On pickup day, you bring that box out to the curb, and they scoop up whatever you’ve discarded.
On their site, you can also find what all that discarded material has been recycled into. Your old plastic bags? They are decking now. Your old batteries? They are new batteries now.
One note on battery recycling, in general. Used batteries can spark. This is less common with AA or AAA but that dead 9-Volt battery from your fire alarm in your junk drawer might actually cause a fire—it happens. To avoid this, make sure to tape off the ends of your 9-V batteries before disposing of them.
AN EASY WAY TO GET RID OF OLD THREADS
Okay okay. I know this isn’t exactly for electronics. But it’s a great service and honestly, I’m haunted by images of the discarded clothing mounds polluting the Atacama desert in Chile and the clothing walls surrounding Accra in Ghana. Clothing recycling might not solve the problems of Fast Fashion and textile production, but at least it keeps you from contributing to those giant mountains of clothing.
The For Days service is easy and relatively inexpensive. Go to the For Days Website and order one of their ‘take back’ bags. They cost $20 each and measure 24 inches x 24 inches. Each bag fits 15 lbs. With your purchase, you will also receive a free shipping label and $20 in closet cash to spend at For Days.
When they receive your clothing discards, the textiles get sorted out for either donation or to be used in housing insulation.
RELIABLE OLD WAYS TO GET RID OF ELECTRONICS
There are also more traditional electronics recycling centers. Certain states keep track of where these centers are. If you live in CA, for example, the state has a mapping tool on its website that allows you to search for nearby recycling centers. Washington State’s Department of Ecology also has a cool recycling center mapping tool for their Eco-Cycle Washington program…which is ENTIRELY free.
Traditional recycling sites are especially great if you need to get rid of large items like big-screen TVs or DVD Players.
DON’T WORRY YOU CAN KEEP USING YOUR LIGHTENING CORD
Don’t want to give up your lightning cords and feel invested in keeping them?
Certainly, there is an ecological argument to be made about using the cords you already have. Apple has a quick fix for that. They’re selling a $29 dongle adapter for your lightning cord…which doesn’t help with your Spring cleaning but does allow you to continue to use the cords you have already purchased.
Is there a recycling method we missed? An organization you particularly love donating electronics to? We want to know about it. Reach out on Instagram and tell us what’s good.