A: You understand correctly: Most old electronics contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Fortunately, your options for recycling old gadgets have improved since last year.
First try selling the old hardware or giving it away at a site such as Freecycle (http://freecycle.org), bearing in mind that cathode-ray-tube televisions may have zero appeal even when free to any taker. (Remember to wipe your old data from a computer; see last week's column for help with that.) You can also try selling smaller devices to sites such as Gazelle (http://gazelle.com), YouRenew.com and BuyMyTronics.com.
Older computers can find a second career after a tune-up: Local computer groups such as the Capital PC User Group (http://reboot.cpcug.org) and Washington Apple Pi (http://wap.org/about/donations) and larger nonprofits such as the National Cristina Foundation (http://cristina.org) refurbish donated machines and pass them on to local charities, schools and other worthy recipients.
For recycling options, check with your computer's manufacturer: Firms such as Apple (http://apple.com/environment), Dell (http://dell.com/recycle) and HP (http://hp.com/recycle) will recycle old hardware free under some conditions. You can also drop off computers and peripherals for recycling at a Staples store; a $10 fee applies to non-Dell PCs, monitors and printers. Best Buy stores (http://bestbuy.com/recycle) charge $10 for recycling laptops, monitors and smaller TVs but offer a $10 store gift card in return, while other gadgets are free to drop off.
For other reuse and recycling options, see the Consumer Electronics Association's myGreenElectronics (http://mygreenelectronics.org) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (http://electronicstakeback.com); the latter requires recyclers to pledge not to ship "e-waste" to developing countries and to abide by additional environmental standards.
Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.