As is often stated, reusing discarded goods of any type is the highest and best form of recycling them. This is especially true for electronics. Reuse is the highest form of recycling in that it retains the intended function and materials of electronic equipment with very little wasted, while end-of-life electronics recycling recovers just a portion of the metals, plastics, and glass that go into the manufacture of electronic devices. Shredding and smelting computers, for instance, loses 10% to 30% of the materials and energy in any given item.

In the electronics reuse field there are a number of new online used IT equipment buy-back Web sites that have come online recently in the US. All of them are geared mainly to serve consumers rather than businesses or institutions so far. Either way, it's something to watch for organizations looking to go greener too.

Here are some of them:
  • The Costco Trade-In and Recycle Program is operated by Greensight Technologies in Boca Raton Florida, which is an electronics recycler that does the processing and hosts the online equipment valuator for this service. This program is available only to members of Costco. Payment for items that are accepted are made via a Costco cash card. Based on the configuration and condition of your item, GreenSight offers to purchase your item at the value displayed by their trade-in value estimator. The valuation is pretty low — for instance a fully functioning 1.2 to 1.6 GHz Dell Pentium 4 laptop is valued at $60. This is pretty consistent with all the online electronics buy-back Web sites, but the sites sometimes differ with each other significantly in their valuations. Just as this one, they all offer free shipping. In the Costco program, all trade-in valuations are subject to final evaluation by GreenSight's technical staff. If your item does not qualify for any trade-in value, you will be offered the opportunity to recycle your item for free. Greensight says that they do data wipe electronic items with hard drives or flash memory storage, but the program strongly encourages you to do it yourself before shipping.
  • Gazelle.com which is run by Second Rotation Inc of Waltham Massachussets. In addition to the buy-back services like Greensight, Gazelle.com offers the option to donate to one of several charities, plus a means for institutions to sell equipment to them in volume. The site is available to anyone and seems to take more types of things than Greensight/Costco, including GPS devices, satellite radios, portable hard drives, and all cell phones rather then just smart phones. Tech items that aren't pictured in their database can still be submitted for a price quote. The site offers a short online demo to see how Gazelle works.
  • VenJuvo.com, offers cash for electronic items and like the other services recycles non-saleable products at no cost. This one offers 10% extra payment if you opt for a Kmart cash card for purchased items.
  • TechForward.com, lets people pay a fee to "lock in" a value for how much the site promises to pay for the product in the future. For instance, TechForward will give you a price quote for your one-year old digital camera with a contractual agreement to buy at a given price based on age and condition when you’re ready to trade it in. I liked this site because unlike the others, it provides good clear information about the company.
  • MyBoneYard.com accepts fewer types of items than the other programs — laptops, desktop PCs, cellphones and LCD monitors, and pays you with Visa gift cards rather than check or Paypal like most of the others. The service claims to increase buy-back prices due to its partnering with industry leaders in the manufacturing, service and retail sectors, and national consumer electronics recycling programs. It does not specify which companies those are, though.
To learn more, there's a Wall Street Journal article by Katherine Boehret that discusses these and other services that will buy back your IT equipment.