Recycling Mystery: Headphones, Earbuds, and Chargers

Headphones, earbuds, and chargers have become essential accessories for many of us. Because we go through so many of these accessories, they can add up to a lot of e-waste that contains plastic, metal, rubber, magnets, wiring, and chemicals. None of these materials are good for the environment — whether they end up in landfills or as litter. They need to be disposed of properly or, better still, recycled.

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a big problem for our planet. The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership found that of the nearly 7.8 million tons of e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2019, only about 15% was recycled. Recycling electronics is important for many reasons. According to Newtech Recycling, here are some of the biggest reasons why we need to recycle our e-waste:

Because the life cycle of everything we use needs to be considered, let’s look at the best options for dealing with these electronic accessories when we no longer want them — whether they no longer work, or we’ve simply upgraded.

If Your Accessories Still Work, Donate Them

When upgrading to new electronics, such as the latest smartphone, we often get new accessories with them. Before taking old accessories that still work to an e-waste drop-off, look into giving them away or selling them to someone who will use them. Here are a few ideas to help you find new homes for your electronics that still work.

  • Freecycle is a site for giving away stuff you don’t want to someone who can use it.
  • Craigslist is an online marketplace for selling — or giving away — stuff that still works. If you want to give it away, set up a regular “for sale by owner” posting and then select the “free stuff” category.
  • Best Buy has a trade-in program that will give you credit for certain brands of headphones and earbuds.
  • Goodwill takes both working and non-working electronics and accessories. Aligning with the Goodwill mission, they hire and train disabled and disadvantaged individuals on how to repair them. Find a Goodwill store near you and be sure to call first to verify which electronic accessories they take.
  • Consider donating working accessories to a local charity or school. It’s a good idea to call first to make sure they can make use of the items you have.

If They Don’t Work, Can They Be Repaired?

When headphones or earbuds don’t work anymore or they work improperly, there is a chance they can be fixed. To save money and the planet, see if you can repair them before you look for ways to recycle them.

Here’s how to find out if these sound accessories can be repaired and how to do it.

Headphones

Here are sites that can guide you through troubleshooting problems with your headphones and how to repair them.

  • Headphonesty has a guide for troubleshooting why your headphones aren’t working correctly and how to fix them.
  • Hooke Audio gives step-by-step instructions on how to repair various issues you may be having with your headphones, from wiring and BlueTooth to sound issues, this site includes videos to walk you through DIY repair.
  • DIY Perks has a YouTube video that walks you through the easy replacement of a headphone jack if the sound is not working correctly.

Earbuds

Earbuds come wireless and with wires. Both are electronic items that have some wiring and chemical components, so it’s important they don’t end up in the trash. These sites tell how you may be able to repair them when they stop working.

Chargers

Charging units and cords are not easy to repair. You may be able to extend the life of your cord by taping it with electrical tape when the casing starts to wear out. This helps keep the wires from breaking so they will last longer. If the charging unit no longer charges, your next best option is recycling.

If You Can’t Repair Your Electronics, Recycle

Because the materials in electronics are valuable, the number of recycling, trade-in, and take-back programs is growing. Here are some ways to recycle your e-waste:

  • The Earth911 database allows you to search for e-waste recycling by ZIP code.
  • Call2Recycle has a map that shows you where to recycle various electronics in your area.
  • Recycling Center Near Me lists stores that accept e-waste.
  • Best Buy recycles most electronics, including headphones, earbuds, and chargers. Select a category on the page and find more e-waste recycling resources by U.S. state in a link at the bottom.
  • Staples recycling takes accessories, adapters, and cables. They do not specifically list headphones, earbuds, or chargers, so call your local store to see if they will take them.
  • Original manufacturers often take back used accessories and refurbish them, whether they’re working or not. Visit the website of the brand that made the accessory and search for a recycling or take-back program.

Always make sure to take your e-waste to a recycler that will manage your e-waste responsibly and not ship it to countries that are not equipped to manage it. Look for certification by e-Stewards, for example, which identifies responsible e-waste recyclers.

Repair and Recycle to Preserve Valuable Materials

The growing number of electronics we use translates to a lot of useful materials that should not end up in landfills. Recycling our old electronics reclaims valuable resources that can be used to make new products. In addition to reducing waste, using recycled materials requires less energy and is better for the planet than mining and manufacturing new materials. It’s more important than ever that we repair and recycle all of our electronics and the accessories that go with them.



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