Faster Forward: Sites to e-cycle (and maybe profit from) your e-junk

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010; 10:25 AM

Like many of you, my wife and I have had too many old and broken gadgets collecting dust in various rooms. Like many of you, we could use some extra cash. Can we address both of these issues at once by selling these things to sites that buy old electronic junk?

Maybe. I tried four such sites--BuyMyTronics, Gazelle, MyBoneyard and YouRenew--to see how they'd deal with a grab bag of e-junk. (So you know, I heard about YouRenew from my colleague Patricia Sullivan, whose nephew founded the site.)

I started with two old handheld organizers: a working Palm Tungsten E and a deceased Sony Clie SJ30. MyBoneyard and YouRenew don't accept organizers at all; Gazelle offered a whopping $6 for Palm and nothing for the Sony, while BuyMyTronics valued both devices at $0.

Then came a dumb and a smart phone. The former was a Motorola i730 for Nextel with a small crack in its screen, which everybody agreed was worth nothing. The latter was a Palm Treo 650 for Verizon with minor cosmetic damage and a missing stylus; BuyMyTronics offered $1 for it, Gazelle $2 and BuyMyTronics and YouRenew $0.

A Pentax Optio 550 digital camera with a fried image sensor and no battery or cable (I'd unloaded those accessories on eBay years ago) fetched an estimate of $0 on Gazelle and BuyMyTronics. The other sites didn't have this model in their databases.

A second-generation, 4-gigabyte iPod Nano with a half-dead screen (it functions after a system restore until the first time it goes to sleep) was worth $3 at BuyMyTronics and nothing everywhere else.

Finally, a broken 4 GB Verbatim Store 'n' Go external hard drive wasn't listed at any of these sites. (YouRenew invited me to send in a description but did not follow up by returning an estimate.)

Of those four sites, Gazelle and BuyMyTronics only offer free shipping on items with an estimated value above zero--although in one test, Gazelle kept telling me to "Add more items to your box to qualify for free shipping" until I'd submitted four such devices. MyBoneyard and YouRenew advertise free shipping on everything.

Gazelle, YouRenew and BuyMyTronics all offered fairly straightforward designs, complete with auto-complete search results that include thumbnail images of products matching your query--so you don't have to remember if you have a second- or third-generation model. MyBoneyard, however, requires you to browse through a menu of options to identify your gadget. Its site also fails to specify what forms of payment it offers (the others offer a choice of at least PayPal or check).

Bear in mind that these sites' estimates can erode quickly. Back in March, Gazelle offered $30 for the Tungsten E and BuyMyTronics would have paid $15 for it; the iPod Nano could have fetched $3 at Gazelle and $7 at BuyMyTronics.

So what's your best option? Most of the time, you should research other options first. For example, if you plan on replacing on one iPod with another, Apple will give you 10 percent off a new model at its stores if you return any old one, even if broken. Don't forget that eBay can work remarkably well for unloading old hardware too.

Here's where I must confess that I no longer had the Tungsten or the i730 when I did this research--I got $37 for the handheld on eBay last July and all of the $1 for the phone in January. In turn, the Treo 650, bundled with a spare 16 MB memory card, just went for $19.49 on the auction site.

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