In 2019, a record year of growth for the PC market, there were approximately 261,000,000,000 computers and over 1,500,000 smartphones sold in the United States. Our appetite for devices shows no signs of reversal as every aspect of our lives is connected in some way to the internet. Regardless of income, smartphones are nearly ubiquitous across all ethnic, racial, and age groups. While computers remain out of reach for millions, recent first-time federal investments have made it easier for eligible households to purchase a computer and subscribe to home broadband more affordably through the Affordable Connectivity Program. Yet, despite ongoing challenges in the electronics supply chain due to a global chip shortage, electronics sales remain strong. Since the average lifespan of a laptop is about 3-5 years, and most people upgrade their smartphones every 2-3 years, what happens to these devices when they are no longer in use?

The E-Waste Problem

The U.S. generated nearly 7,000,000 tons of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2019. Globally, there are 53.6 million tons of e-waste, or about 15 lbs per capita. Only about 17% of e-waste is currently collected and recycled in the U.S. Driven by the rapid pace of technology, consumers’ appetite for tech, and reduced product lifespans, e-waste continues to grow at a staggering rate.

E-waste is not a myth, and the need for its management is dire. Wealthier countries like the U.S. sometimes export their e-waste to other countries like Ghana, Africa. At massive e-waste dumps, mercury and arsenic adversely affect air, land, water, and all life forms once leached into the environment. Since natural resources are shared across man-made boundaries, e-waste pollution is a global problem.

Why The Patterson Foundation Cares

Across current initiatives such as Digital Access for All, the Digital Navigator Program, The Bay, and Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life, TPF strengthens communities and demonstrates its concern and commitment to coping, adapting, and innovating for issues such as the lack of affordable computers for people in the community, while supporting a liveable and enjoyable human habitat for everyone. Helping individuals and businesses plan for how to retire electronics and educating the public on computer refurbishment and recycling are essential to the community’s vitality and longevity. Read more about 25 states with statewide e-waste recycling legislation.

Don’t Dump, Donate!

Consumers in wealthier nations tend to keep their obsolete, unwanted, and broken electronics. This tendency is mainly due to a need for more guidance for people on options for their no-longer-wanted devices. Thankfully, the e-waste recycling industry is growing rapidly because the amount of e-waste is so staggering – this means more jobs. Within The Patterson Foundation’s four-county focus area of Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, recyclers receive individual and corporate electronics for recycling with free pickups, such as:
  • Urban Recycling – 6102 24th Street East Bradenton, FL 34203
  • TPF’s Digital Navigator Program has been working with the Sarasota Technology Users Group (STUG) to support the community’s growing demand for refurbished computers and help Digital Navigators source free or affordable computers for their clients. Visit STUG at 3949 Sawyer Road, Sarasota, FL 34233.

Finally, what do spring cleaning, tax time, and computers have in common? Simple. Spring cleaning signals a time to declutter, including the box of old cell phones, laptops, tablets, and keyboards. Donating your computing devices ensures that someone in your community who needs them can have a device they will get good use of at a lower price for years to come. Since it’s also tax time, the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) provides free tax preparation support to anyone earning less than $60,000 annually, to people with disabilities, and those who do not speak English proficiently. Savings from using VITA, combined with a tax refund, can be a smart funding strategy for people who need to buy an affordable or refurbished computer.

In addition to computers, other household electronics can be safely recycled. Read more about how to identify a responsible recycler here. If Urban Recycling or STUG doesn’t meet your needs, consider using a search engine like Google to find a responsible recycler using the terms “electronics recycling” and your city and state. From there, use this criteria as a starting point to identify where you can safely and, without cost, surrender your out-of-use electronics. Also, check out Digitunity’s computer donation location finder.

For more information on donating your electronic devices or receiving a free or affordable computer, contact a Suncoast Digital Navigator or email

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