Look | What Happens to Your Electronics: Inside An E-Recycling Plant

Electronics manufacturers are required by law to take back their products for recycling when consumers are done with them. But figuring out how to turn a product over for recycling – and how to get it there – is the job of the consumer.

Consumers can look up the drop-off locations for a given manufacturer on The New York Department of Environmental Conservation website (PDF).

Some companies and nonprofits also offer free e-waste recycling:

•    Goodwill accepts computers and peripherals (keyboard, mice, etc.) of any brand. Some locations also accept TVs. The Salvation Army will also take any product by any brand.

•    The Lower East Side Ecology Center opened a warehouse by the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn earlier this year. They accept any e-waste, regardless of manufacturer, and host one-day collection events throughout the city.

•    At Best Buy, consumers can drop off up to three items per household per day, regardless of manufacturer, though there can be limitations on size.

•    The 4th Bin will pick up e-waste from consumers and businesses for a fee, typically between $10 and $125.

•    The non-profit Basil Action Network runs a program to evaluate the standards and ethics of e-waste recyclers. Their website offers a list of companies that have achieved their e-Stewart certification.

•     For more information on drop-off locations, see the city's site

    A separate state law requires that all cell phone service providers accept cell phones for reuse or recycling.

    4th Bin co-founders Michael Deutsch and John Kirsch load e-waste into a rented U-Haul truck. They weigh and inventory each item before trucking it to their Harlem facility, where it is sorted by type and prepared for pick-up by Mount Vernon-based We Recycle!, a recycler that deals exclusively with e-waste.

    ( Tracey Samuelson )
    John Kirsch picks keyboards out of a bin of e-waste to weigh and load onto his truck.
    John Kirsch picks keyboards out of a bin of e-waste to weigh and load onto his truck. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    Kirsch detangles the chord of an old keyboard before stacking it on top of other e-waste items for weighing.
    Kirsch detangles the chord of an old keyboard before stacking it on top of other e-waste items for weighing. ( Tracey Samuelson )

    Kirsch helps unload e-waste at the company’s storage facility in Harlem. The items — including a Gateway computer from the New School, tagged with a yellow sticker — were collected from nine different pick-up locations and will be grouped by type to prepare for recycling.

    ( Tracey Samuelson )

    Inside 4th Bin’s Harlem storage facility, e-waste is grouped by type and prepared for recycling.

    ( Tracey Samuelson )

    Michael Deutsch, right, straddles an old Gateway computer tower in his company’s Harlem storage facility, beside operations manager Aristides Baez, left. WNYC tagged the computer with a yellow sticker in order to follow it through the recycling process.

    ( Tracey Samuelson )
    We Recycle! driver Hector Gonzalez picks-up a box of e-waste collected by the 4th Bin and prepares to transport it back to his company’s warehouse in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
    We Recycle! driver Hector Gonzalez picks-up a box of e-waste collected by the 4th Bin and prepares to transport it back to his company’s warehouse in Mount Vernon, N.Y. ( Tracey Samuelson )

    In the We Recycle! warehouse in Mount Vernon, N.Y., the first stop in the recycling process for this Gateway computer is the harvest department. Robert Marcial, a disassembly technician, removes the machine’s circuit boards. 

    ( Tracey Samuelson )
    We Recycle! supervisor Carlos Jorge prepares to drop the Gateway computer on a conveyor belt leading into a large shredder.
    We Recycle! supervisor Carlos Jorge prepares to drop the Gateway computer on a conveyor belt leading into a large shredder. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    The Gateway computer, along with a medium-sized printer, rides a conveyor belt leading into a large shredder.
    The Gateway computer, along with a medium-sized printer, rides a conveyor belt leading into a large shredder. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines.
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines.
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines.
    After shredding, the chewed-up pieces of computers and other e-waste are sorted by magnets and other machines. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    Shredded pieces of metal from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to another recycler, who will melt the metal down to make new products and devices.
    Shredded pieces of metal from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to another recycler, who will melt the metal down to make new products and devices. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    Shredded pieces of circuit boards from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to another recycler, who will recover precious metals from the boards.
    Shredded pieces of circuit boards from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to another recycler, who will recover precious metals from the boards. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    Shredded pieces of plastic from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to other recyclers, who will melt the plastic down to make new products and devices.
    Shredded pieces of plastic from e-waste are grouped together and bagged. We Recycle! will sell the pieces to other recyclers, who will melt the plastic down to make new products and devices. ( Tracey Samuelson )
    A bag full of shredded circuit boards is ready to be sold to another recycler, who will recover precious metals from the boards.
    A bag full of shredded circuit boards is ready to be sold to another recycler, who will recover precious metals from the boards. ( Tracey Samuelson )
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