Electronic waste, also known as E-waste, has become a significant problem for our planet. It includes consumer electronics like computers, cell phones, and fax machines. These items contain toxins like lead, cadmium, and mercury that leach into soil and drinking water. Fortunately, there has been significant attention paid to the issue of E-waste and the best ways we can reduce it. DIY projects using pieces that would otherwise end up in a landfill has long been a popular and practical craft concept. The uses of E-waste in creating exciting art and interesting crafts are practically endless.
There are so many places to discover DIY projects that it can be tough to find a starting point. At MakeProjects.com, you can search for a part you have and find well-written guides to create a variety of items with that part. I searched for “CRT monitor” and found step-by-step instructions to create a fully functional BeatBearing Tangible Rhythm Sequencer using a flat panel CRT monitor and other parts that can be salvaged, like IDE cable. Another Make:Projects guide shows you how to make a programmable cat feeder from an old VCR. These tend to require some advanced DIY skills, like soldering, so be sure to read closely before starting.
For those of us with less technical skills, a very simple DIY trick for your old iPod is to use it as an external hard drive. If the iPod is still functional, all you’ll need to do is enable disk use in iTunes. Open iTunes, select the iPod icon, then Summary. Check the box by “enable disk use,” then you’ll be able to drag and drop files to it like any other external hard drive. You’ll still be able to use it as storage even if the battery is dead, but you may still want to have it replaced or get an AC adapter. Other brands of music players likely won’t need any tweaking to double as spare hard drives. If you like retro-aesthetic, you can easily upcycle a Macintosh into an iPad holder. You can also buy kits to help you upcycle E-waste, like this iMacquarium kit.
Sculpture is a popular method of creatively using E-waste. Some artists create simple pieces like tiny clocks or business card holders from old motherboards. Brenda Guyton is an artist who focuses on the intersection between human and machine. She uses found objects and E-waste to create magnificent sculptures and assemblages. Steve Rodrig creates interesting sculptures primarily from expired motherboards. Artist Yuri creates diminutive paintings on microchips. Whether you are inspired to create your own or you buy pieces from artists who use found objects and E-waste in their work, you’re helping to reduce the global impact of tech trash in a beautiful way.
If you’re just not the DIY or creative type, you can still get something out of those old electronics by not putting them in the trash. Some retailers offer trade-in or buy back options for your old electronics. Amazon.com Trade-In buys your old electronics from you for Amazon credit. You choose your items from their site, add them to a trade-in list, print out a pre-paid shipping label and send in the items at no cost to you. Target has an online and in-store trade-in program that pays you in store gift cards for your E-waste. If you trade-in through the NextWorth website, you can choose a Target gift card or a PayPal deposit.
Consider donating your used electronics to an organization that can use them. Cell Phones for Soldiers and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence both collect used cell phones. They both sell the phones to a recycler and use the money to fund their respective goals. Many charities like these will accept other electronics, as well.
Older gadgets may not have enough value for a trade-in, or may be in such disrepair that charities can’t use them either. If that’s the case, find a trustworthy recycling company either through the manufacturer of your product or through the EPA’s search tool. It includes drop-off locations, mail-in options, online and recycling events listed by manufacturer. Those listed use only certified recyclers, so you can be sure they’re disposed of properly.
Take a look at the infographic we created below.