We love our devices—our TVs, laptops, tablets, and perhaps most of all, our mobile phones, those pocket-size miracles of computing power. In fact, Gartner, a tech research company, estimated that 1.9 billion cell phones were bought in 2015. That’s around one for every four people alive.
But each of those devices eventually reaches the end of its useful life and becomes electronic waste. And that's a problem. A United Nations study reported that 41.8 million tons of e-waste was discarded in 2014, and only between 10 to 40 percent of it was disposed of properly.
On Earth Day—and every other day—consumers can do something to reduce their e-waste footprint, though. Many of the materials used in making these products can be recovered and reused, including plastics, glass and metal. Ask Apple: The company says it re-captured 2,204 pounds of gold—worth $40 million—from recycled devices in 2015.
Unfortunately, electronics products can also contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which all must be disposed of carefully. So far, 25 states have passed laws requiring people to recycle old electronics. But no matter where you live, there are safe methods for disposing of electronic waste.
First, make sure to completely erase all personal information. It usually isn’t as simple as deleting files: Here's how to get all your personal data off your devices. Once that's done, here are your options.