Taking your old electronics to a local e-waste facility is a lot better than dropping the mass of potentially dangerous materials into your trash can — but even better than visiting your city’s e-waste facility is sending the broken item back to the manufacturer. Why? By returning the no-longer-functional electronic to the manufacturer, you force that company to take charge for the end-of-life disposal of the product instead of offloading the cost of recycling and disposal on taxpayers.

And of course, when companies have to contend with responsible dismantling and recycling of their products, they have an incentive to make more responsible products to begin with. Those could be new electronics that are easier and eco-friendlier to recycle and dispose of, or electronics that — *gasp!* — last more than a few years!

That’s why the green group Electronics TakeBack Coalition for years has been pushing companies to take back their electronics. Earlier this week, the coalition released its Electronics Company Recycling Report Card, showing exactly which companies are taking responsibility for the products they produce. I’m proud to say that my laptop maker, Dell, got the highest mark — a B!

Most companies, however, got big fat Fs — like my printer maker Brother, my stereo maker Sony, and my camera maker Canon. Interestingly, a good handful of these flunkies actually have take-back programs! It’s just that these programs are (intentionally?) tough to use for average consumers who don’t want to navigate a complicated return program, don’t want to pay the expense of mailing in a broken electronic for the program, or more likely, don’t even know that a program exists.

The greenest action you can take with the electronics you already own is to take care of them and use them a long, long time, fixing them whenever possible to reduce the need for recycling. But once that computer or printer gives out, take the time to check if the manufacturer offers a recycling program. If it’s practical enough, use it. If not, I suggest letting the manufacturer know you’re unhappy with their nonexistent or difficult-to-use take back program — and that you’re taking your future business elsewhere.

How did your computer and printer makers score?

Electronics companies get recycling grades
Dell makes recycling its old laptops fairly easy, but most companies make it tough for customers to return no-longer-usable electronics for safe disposal.