It’s better to recycle headphones than let them go to waste at your house or in a landfill. But not so fast—you can do something even better with your old cans!
Recycling is only the last step in a long list of options. If your headphones or earbuds still work, there is a chance someone could fix them, or if they still have working parts, give others the chance to reuse, repair, or upcycle them. When faced with hopelessly broken headphones, however, purge them and make sure they enter a recycling stream.
What to do with old headphones that still work
Do you have a headset that isn’t quite busted, yet? Maybe the ear cups are worn out or the battery is dead, but it still works fine when you plug in an audio cable. Unlike true wireless earbuds, (optionally) wired headphones can last for a decade or more with good care.
Refurbish and reuse your headphones
With a few small repairs, your headphones could be as good as new. Or at least good enough for someone else to still get some joy out of them. Here are some options:
- Replace crumbling ear pads
- Fix a broken headband
- Repair frayed or severed headphone wires
- Clean your headphones or earbuds, even your AirPods Pro
Fixing up your headphones could teach you new skills or re-ignite your appreciation for the product. If you don’t have the patience to mend your headphones, give someone else the chance.
Sell, trade, or donate old headphones
Not everyone wants to spend big bucks on a good pair of headphones. That’s your chance to trade your headphones in, either for a bit of cash, something you need, or simply a helper’s high. The places listed below accept headphones and earbuds for sale or donation.
|eBay||Sell your used headphones or earbuds.|
|Local thrift shops or other nonprofits||Some non-profit second hand shops accept used electronics and resell them. The proceeds then go towards a good cause.|
|Craigslist||Online classifieds website to sell or gift items to people in your city.|
|Facebook Marketplace||Facebook's classifieds platform to sell or gift items to people in your community.|
|Freecycle||Online nonprofit network of 5,000+ local groups for giving and getting stuff for free.|
|Bunz||Mobile and web app to trade items with people in your area. Canadian, but available globally.|
|Kijiji||Canadian classifieds page to sell or gift items locally; owned by eBay.|
Selling or trading items can be quite an effort. Trade-in programs are a great compromise, offering both a hassle-free experience and something in return, like a cash voucher or discount.
Rather than recycle headphones, use trade-in or take-back programs
Have an old pair of AirPods? You’ll be spoiled for choice. If you have headphones or earbuds from another brand, it’s still worth checking relevant take-back, trade-in, or recycling programs. Some places offer store credits or vouchers, even for broken headphones. Many provide free shipping labels, so all you have to invest in is an envelope and a trip to the nearest mailbox or post office.
|Programs||How it works|
|Amazon||Amazon takes back a range of working and non-working electronics, including its Echo speakers, Echo Buds, as well as speakers and headphones from Apple, Beats, Bose, JBL, Sonos, and Sony. Amazon provides a free shipping label. Depending on the product's value, you'll get a gift card and a discount on a current generation Echo device.
A pair of working Apple AirPods Pro in mint condition could earn you a $75 gift card. But even one that's broken could get you a $10 voucher.
|Apple||Apple takes back AirPods, headphones, and speakers for recycling. Apple provides a free shipping label or you can drop items off at any Apple Store. Presently, Apple does not offer a store credit for returning AirPods.|
|Best Buy||Like Amazon, Best Buy has an extensive trade-in program for electronics, including Apple AirPods and brand headphones from Beats, Bose, and Sony. You could get a gift card of up to $60 for a complete set of Apple AirPods Pro.|
|JLab||JLab will give you a 30% coupon for any earbuds, headphones, or speakers you send them for recycling, regardless of whether they're broken or still working. You only have to cover shipping costs.|
|Podswap||Podswap accepts AirPods for donation and pays for shipping. Or you can swap your old AirPods for a refurbished pair at a reasonable price.|
|Sony||Sony doesn't actually offer a take back recycling program. However, the company has partnered with ERI, which provides a search engine that lists drop-off locations for used electronics, batteries, or media.|
When your headphones are beyond repair and nobody wants them, not even for free, that’s when you should consider ways to dispose of or recycle headphones.
How to dispose of broken headphones
All headphones and earbuds contain valuable materials, including leather, metals, magnets, and various types of plastic. Not all of these can be recycled, but professional recycling facilities can separate the materials and dispose of anything that isn’t recyclable, without harm to the environment. All you have to do is find a place that accepts electronic waste and drop the headphones or earbuds off for recycling.
|Eart911||USA||Eart911 accepts a wide range of items for recycling, including electronics like headphones and earbuds. Type in what you'd like to recycle or select a category from the list on the left-hand side, then enter your ZIP code, and click the search button.|
|Best Buy||USA, Canada, Mexico||Best Buy doesn't just offer a great trade-in program, they also accept most electronics for recycling. Select the product category, e.g. audio, to see what's accepted. You can also choose your State from the drop-down menu to access further regional options.|
|Recycle My Electronics||Canada||A comprehensive directory of recycling facilities across Canada, organized by Province. Includes places that accept donations and recycling centers for more than just electronics.|
Electronic waste won’t go away, but you can help reduce it. The best thing, of course, is to continue using your old headphones or buy a used pair. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s also better for your budget. When you do invest in new headphones, try to make them last longer.
How to make your headphones last longer
Making your headphones and earbuds last longer starts with the right purchase. Before you head out and buy a new pair, take a moment and consider what you really need. Here are some guidelines:
- Ideally, choose repairable headphones. Brands like Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser sell spare parts for their high-end models. Unfortunately, few brands build affordable products with reparability in mind. Alternatively, opt for a brand with good build quality and positive customer service track record. It’s a good sign if they offer a generous warranty policy of 12 months or more.
- Avoid true wireless earbuds. Their batteries typically last for no more than two to three years and most aren’t replaceable. Once the battery dies, most TWS earphones are trash. If you must have earbuds, choose a pair with long battery life, ideally more than 10 hours per charge.
- If you have to get Bluetooth headphones, opt for ones with an optional wired playback. This gives you the best of both worlds because you can still enjoy wireless entertainment and appreciate lossless audio from the wired connection. When the battery does deplete, you can always switch to the wired input too.
Learn more: 5 reasons not to buy Bluetooth headphones
If you already own a pair of headphones or earbuds, take good care of them. Here’s how:
- Keep your headphones dry and clean, and don’t expose them to extreme temperatures. Avoid mechanical stress, especially on the headband and cables. When you take your headphones on a trip, put them into a case.
- To extend the lifespan of Bluetooth headphones, learn how to charge and discharge lithium-ion batteries. For starters, avoid fast charging and wireless charging. Both create excessive heat stress, which ages the battery faster than a regular charge. Also avoid deep discharging below 20% and fully charging beyond 80%. The former could decrease the battery’s capacity and both will affect its longevity.
It doesn’t take much to make your headphones last for many years.
Read next: Best headphones for 2021