Technology

How to responsibly get rid of the stuff you’ve decluttered

Now that Apple’s latest iPhones are using USB-C cables instead of the traditional Lightning cables, anyone who upgrades to a new iPhone may find themselves with a lot of excess cables. If you’re one of those unfortunates, what do you plan to do with them?

While we’re always being told how to simplify our crammed living spaces and get rid of all the stuff we’re no longer using or wearing, it’s often hard to figure out just how to do it responsibly without adding to the world’s excess trash.

Because just dumping them isn’t an option. Reusing and recycling old and unneeded stuff has become an important aspect of the push to preserve the world’s environment. Many states and urban areas are mandating the recycling of tech, metals, paper goods, or other substances, but even if you live in an area where the law doesn’t require it, you probably still want to do the right thing.

The problem is finding how and where you can get rid of your stuff with the greatest advantage to you and the least amount of damage to the environment. This may have been more difficult than usual over the past few years because many resources for recycling were suspended during the pandemic, and some were slow to come back — or never did. However, there are still a number of online services that can help you figure out how to responsibly get rid of things — and possibly make some money in the process.

Here are some resources to check out, depending on what you want to dispose of and how you want to do it.

Planning to buy a new phone or laptop? Before you make the purchase, check out any manufacturer trade-in deals that are available for your Macs, Android phones, and other devices.

If you don’t like the offer from the vendor, you can sell your tech. There are online vendors that will take your used device off your hands and give you something for it. Decluttr, for example, will give you a tentative quote on your phone or tech. (It also takes CDs, DVDs, games, consoles, and books.) You can also sell through a service like Swappa, which charges the buyer, not the seller, a fee. Best Buy also has a trade-in program, although payment will come in the form of a gift card.

You can also give it to charity. There are several programs that give computers to people or organizations that need them. For example, Computers with Causes passes tech on to individuals who need them; World Computer Exchange sends refurbished desktop and laptop computers to schools, libraries, community centers, and universities in developing countries; Bridging Tech donates computers to housing-insecure children, and Globetops lets you choose who will get your refurbished laptop using online descriptions (or you can just donate your tech and let Globetops decide). As with any charitable institution, it’s a good idea to check them out before giving. (There are several charity info sites online.)

And by the way, all those Lightning cables — and other cables you no longer need? You may not want them, but there are a lot of people out there with older tech who can probably use them. As suggested by BasicAppleGuy, you can donate them to a local shelter or ask if your local public school or library can use a few.

If you’ve got tech that is so old that nobody wants it (for example, I actually came across a few parallel cables the other day), then it’s time to dispose of it — in an environmentally conscious way, of course. In fact, if you just throw away your computer or TV set, you may be breaking the law, depending on where you live. According to a 2018 article written for the National Conference of State Legislatures, “25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation establishing a statewide electronic waste, or e-waste, recycling program.”

If you just throw away your computer or TV set, you may be breaking the law

If you live in an urban area, chances are there’s some kind of recycling program that’s available (or even mandatory). In many cases, stores that sell electronics will also offer recycling (occasionally for a fee); all you have to do is bring your stuff to the store. Best Buy, for example, will recycle up to three devices per trip (with some restrictions and a fee for some items, such as monitors); it also has a mail-in service (again, for a fee). Staples has a recycling program for a wide variety of tech devices and also offers mail-in recycling “kits” for a fee. You can also try Earth911 to find the nearest recycling center. However, always check directly with the center or store before you go; hours and what they will handle can change quickly.

Disposing of batteries safely can be a pain. Call2Recycle seems to be the main company that recycles various types of batteries for consumers. Its website can help you find out where to drop off that bag of batteries you’ve been accumulating and also offers shipping services. The organization also accepts batteries via a number of retail outlets, such as Walgreen and Home Depot — find out where to go near you by using Call2Recycle’s online locator tool. However, the type of batteries each retailer accepts will vary (for example, many may not take single-use batteries, and some also take cell phones). So check before going.

Unfortunately, if you’re still holding on to your parents’ old BlackBerry PDA or Commodore 64 in the hopes that you can donate it to a museum, your chances are slim. Several years ago, there was a chance you could ship old, interesting devices to one of a number of tech museums. But most seem to have disappeared, and any that may still be around aren’t accepting anything but cash contributions. The Computer Museum of America is still taking “unique and rare artifacts,” so you can try filling out their donation form. The Computer History Museum website says it’s implementing a new database, so you can check back at some point to see if it’s accepting donations again.

At the high end are consignment companies that act as go-betweens for those who want to sell designer clothing, jewelry, and other valuable objects and those who want to buy them. Some, such as The RealReal, say they authenticate all of the products that are sold through them via expertise and “our proprietary algorithm” after you ship your clothing to the company. Others, such as Rebag and Vestiaire Collective, assess the products via photo and then make you an offer. Most only take recent fashions, so they are not where you go to get rid of that jacket that’s been hanging in your closet for 10 years. However, if you’re the kind of shopper who buys the latest styles every season, these may be where you want to sell and buy.

For less upscale clothing, you can try sites like Thredup, which handles thousands of major brands; you send your gently used clothing directly to the service, and if it accepts (and sells) your clothing, you can choose from cash or credit from either Thredup or an associated retailer.

Many charities that used to accept worn or outmoded clothing have become pickier

If you want to get rid of your older clothing, you may find it a bit harder than it used to be. Many charities that used to accept worn or outmoded clothing have become pickier, partly because the business of reselling old clothes overseas is waning. In addition, savvy consumers are becoming wary of the omnipresent drop-in clothing bins since many actually belong to for-profit companies.

If you can’t make it to your local Goodwill store, one place to try is Vietnam Veterans of America. Its website will let you schedule a pickup (assuming it services your area). GreenDrop has limited locations in various states where you can drop off clothing and household goods. Give Back Box encourages you to use the box your new clothes were shipped in to send your old stuff to a charity of your choice; the site provides a prepaid shipping label for about $20, or you can drop your clothing off for free at any Kohl’s.

There are a number of locally based organizations as well. The best way to find an organization in your area is to try charity guides such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

Books made of paper rather than pixels are still around, and if the piles are getting too high for your home, then you probably want to get rid of at least some of them.

One solution is to sell your books through a site such as Amazon, although that can get complicated. As an individual (as opposed to a business), you have to set up a seller’s account and pay Amazon 99 cents per book. And your chances of actually selling may be slim to none; there are a lot of professional booksellers who use Amazon to get rid of extra inventory, so they will sell their books for 99 cents plus the shipping fee, making it difficult for individuals to compete.

Your chances of actually selling your books via Amazon may be slim to none

You can also try popular resellers such as Powell’s. You give them the ISBN and the condition of the book(s), and they will give you a quote. Then, you mail the books to them and reap your reward via PayPal. AbeBooks is a popular place to look for used books, but they deal mainly with professional sellers; fees for selling start at $25 a month.

If you’ve got textbooks you don’t need anymore — and we all know how expensive those can get — you can try GoTextbooks. BookScouter will show you the prices offered by a variety of booksellers, along with user ratings, and you can choose which one to sell to.

You can also go local. Libraries and used bookstores have traditionally been good ways for people to unload books they no longer want. Many libraries still take books that they can add to their collections, sell, or give away. (Many stopped that practice during the pandemic, so it’s a good idea to check with your library’s website or call ahead to make sure they accept donations.) Used bookstores will usually accept books for either a small payment or for credit toward book purchases. The best way to find out if there are any in your area is to go to Google Maps and search for “used bookstores.”

Finally, you can build your own library. The Little Free Library site provides all the information you need to start a book-distributing program right outside your house. And if one of your neighbors has already started one, maybe you can donate to them!

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

When you want to sell your stuff, one of the places people still think of is eBay. And rightfully so: this is where a lot of buyers go when they’re looking for a deal. People who sell on eBay range from one-time-only folks to professional retailers. Here’s how it works:

  • You get up to 250 free listings a month for most product types; after that, it’s 35 cents per listing.
  • Once your item has been sold, eBay collects 13.25 percent of the final value up to $7,500 and 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500 for most items. There is also a 30 cents per order fee.
  • There are several exceptions: 6.35 percent for guitars and basses (with 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500), 3 percent for heavy equipment (with 0.5 percent for values over $15,000), and 14.95 percent for movies and TV, except for vinyl records (with 2.35 percent on any value over $7,500). There are other exceptions; you can find them all here.

(Note that eBay also has different fees for various levels of professional sellers.)

Selling on eBay takes time, effort, and patience, but it may be worth it. The best way to start is to do a quick search and see the range of prices your object (or a similar object) is selling for.

There are other places where you can sell your stuff. If you’re on Facebook, you can sell stuff using its Marketplace. It’s easiest to sell locally, where you can meet the buyer to do the exchange or arrange for a drop-off. You can also arrange to ship your item; if so, there are a number of rules to follow. Other sites that help you sell or give away items locally include Nextdoor and that old standby, Craigslist.

For giveaways only, Freecycle is a service that introduces local people who have stuff to other local people who want that stuff. Once you find your community Freecycle through the main site, you are instructed on how to advertise what you are giving away. (You can also advertise for something you want.) Anyone who wants the object replies, and after that, it’s up to you to contact the person and arrange for the giveaway. BuyNothing works in much the same way, except it operates mainly via a mobile app: you find your community, describe what you’re giving away (together with a photo), and make arrangements for the handoff.

Either way, you’ve made two people happy — you and the lucky recipient.

Update December 28th, 2023, 10:30AM ET: This article was originally published on January 10th, 2020, and has been updated to account for changes in available services.

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