We rate the big boxes' recycling programs

When you consider that the average lifespan of most electronics devices is about three to five years, it's not surprising to hear that we junk about 2 million tons of e-waste every year. As we constantly upgrade our cellphones, TVs and computers, there are also endless "disposable" accessories along for the ride — batteries, printer cartridges, shipping materials… the list goes on.

From both a public-relations and bottom-line perspective, going green is good business for just about any corporation, and all of the major electronics retailers now offer some type of recycling or reuse program. After the Continue jump, get the lowdown on how some of the programs work.

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Best Buy
Best Buy has a comprehensive recycling program that covers everything from TVs to refrigerators. At kiosks inside all of its U.S. stores, you can drop off old cellphones, rechargeable batteries, and printer cartridges at no cost. If you buy a large appliance or TV, Best Buy will deliver it and haul away your existing unit, then evaluate it (and its parts) for recycling or reuse. When you buy a cellphone at Best Buy, you receive a free, postage-paid envelope to mail old phones to ReCellular, a reuse/recycling partner. If you want to trade in tech gadgets and computers, go to the trade-in estimator, fill out the details and condition of your device, and get an instant quote. You receive a Best Buy gift card about 7 days after the item arrives at the trade-in center. The company also sponsors a series of weekend recycling events in store parking lots across the U.S.
Green Cred: Best Buy offers grants for local recycling programs, and is a member of the EICC, a coalition of companies that sets high environmental standards.
The Fine Print: Delivery is free only for appliances over $500, and installation is not included. You got a wrench, right?
Final Score: A-




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Circuit City

Circuit City also uses the tried-and-true trade-in as an incentive to recycle aging tech devices. EZtradein.com is the hub for this service, where you can get rid of all kinds of home and portable electronics and receive a Circuit City gift card in return. At the trade-in estimator you fill out the details and condition of your device, and then get an instant quote. For example, when I put in the specs for the Dell desktop I bought in 2003, the estimated trade-in value was $74.26, along with a prepaid shipping label. Circuit City is also a partner in the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's Call2Recycle program, which recycles rechargeable batteries and old cell phones.

Green Cred: Circuit City expanded the Call2Recycle program by offering collection bags to online customers.

The Fine Print: Because of their weight, CRT monitors are not accepted for trade in. Hard to find information on Circuit City's recycling programs at its website.

Final Score: B




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Office Depot

Office Depot's recycling program is beautiful in its simplicity. It offers three different sizes of boxes that you can load up with a mish-mash of tech gadgets and drop off at any Office Depot store. The devices are then sent off to a recycling plant, crushed up, and raw materials are extracted using a shredding process. The most common materials recovered are glass, plastic, copper and aluminum. Office Depot also provides free recycling for cellphones, rechargeable batteries and ink & toner cartridges.

Green Cred: Office Depot will open its first green store in Austin, Texas this summer. It features energy-efficient lighting and water fixtures, and recycled and low-carbon-emitting building materials.

The Fine Print: Office Depot charges $5, $10 and $15 for its (small, medium, big) recycling boxes.

Final Score: B+




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Apple

Apple's iPod recycling program offers free recycling of any iPod or cellphone . After filling out an online form, you'll get a prepaid mailing label to attach to your package, or you can request a free mailer. For U.S. customers, Apple also offers free recycling of old computers, displays, and peripherals — cables, mice, keyboards, speakers, printers, scanners, media, hard drives, etc. — when you purchase a new Mac or monitor. Whether you buy a computer or monitor online or at an Apple store, the company will send you an e-mail with a shipping code. Then you can pack up your old gear and drop it off at any FedEx location.

Green Cred: In 2006, Apple was taken to task over labor issues related to its iPod manufacturing in China, and for not removing more toxic chemicals from its products. To his credit, Jobs responded to the criticisms in his blow-by-blow greener Apple letter.

The Fine Print: Greenpeace puts Apple in the middle of the pack for its overall environmental efforts.

Final Score: B




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Staples

Staples' recycling program covers everything from desktops, laptops and printers to peripherals like keyboards, mice and speakers, no matter the brand or where the equipment was purchased. You can take equipment to a Staples customer-service desk, and it's sent to a recycler that disassembles the equipment into its component parts. For personal electronics such as cellphones, PDAs, pagers, digital cameras, chargers, and batteries, Staples has recycling partners, including Collective Good, and the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation. Staples will also give you prepaid shipping materials to send in old printer cartridges.

Green Cred: Staples is a member of the U.S. EPA WasteWise program, which helps companies implement solid and industrial waste reduction measures.

The Fine Print: There's a recycling fee of $10 per piece of large equipment (computers, printers, faxes). Hmmm, that could add up fast.

Final Score: B




Winner: Best Buy
With an extensive recycling program covering just about everything they sell, Best Buy makes it easy for customers to get rid of their goods responsibly. The company's trade-in program is a nice alternative for those eager for more toys, and with its long list of programs and partnerships, Best Buy seems to be serious about its green commitment.

If none of these retailers are close to where you are (where do you live, in the Mojave Desert?), or you have a superstore phobia, Techsoup can help you find nonprofit, school-based, and commercial recyclers.