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What should we do with old electronics?

Cleaning out a drawer or closet can be extremely therapeutic. Old clothes and items go into a donation pile; other things might be great to give away. But then… you pull open that drawer full of your old electronics: phones, speakers, music players and more. What do you do with these?

As electronics get smaller and more ubiquitous, more devices are hibernating in drawers, closets, attics and garages. Recycling electronics isn’t an everyday activity and doesn’t follow the same process as recycling normal household waste. In 2019, only about 17% of electronic waste was recycled globally.

As part of our sustainability commitments, Google has committed to including recycled materials in all our consumer hardware. The future of electronics recycling depends on developing better technologies that extract materials from discarded products, too. But that’s not the only challenge in creating effective recycling systems: Getting useful but unused products to people who need them and unusable ones into recycling centers are both essential to making electronics more sustainable.

Many cities have numerous drop-off options at retail or municipal locations, and major electronics brands also offer mail-in services for old devices. But it’s not enough to have these services available — it’s critical to truly understand what else people need in order to recycle electronics they’re no longer using.

To learn more, Google talked with individual users about their electronics recycling struggles. The lessons — which are outlined in our white paper Electronics Hibernation: Understanding Barriers to Consumer Participation in Electronics Recycling Services — were both surprising and familiar. People have relationships with their electronics that extend beyond their usefulness — the way we think about our devices is completely different from how we think about an empty juice bottle, for example. Our research identified major barriers to consumer electronics recycling, and we hope that by sharing these initial insights, we will encourage others to join the conversation and inspire new ideas.

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