Recycling E-Waste: How to Dispose of Unwanted Electronics

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Recycling E-Waste: How to Dispose of Unwanted Electronics


Byline: Eric Christensen Creators.com

People often toss old electronics in the nearest trash can. In 2009, more than 2 million tons of TVs, computers, laptops, printers, scanners, cellphones, batteries and other hazardous electronic waste (collectively known as e-waste) were discarded, making it one of the fastest-growing waste streams around the world. But e-waste contains both precious metals and toxic materials, so it is important that e-waste is recycled properly. Thankfully, both manufacturers and retailers are making it easy for consumers to minimize the impact of e-waste.

Some electronics contain lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury, which the Environmental Protection Agency says "could pose risks to human health or the environment if mismanaged at their end-of-life." A 2004 EPA report said, "Approximately 70 percent of the heavy metals in municipal solid waste landfills are estimated to come from electronics." E-waste also contains precious metals, such as copper, silver, gold and palladium.

The EPA estimates that for every million cellphones recycled, "35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered," allowing the U.S. to conserve these materials instead of mining.

The EPA recommends using certified recyclers. Currently, two certification standards exist -- Responsible Recycling (R2) and E-Stewards -- that require recyclers to undergo audits to ensure they uphold strict environmental standards. But not all organizations are comfortable with both standards. Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, says, "Many private companies will only work with E-Stewards because they don't want their used equipment being exported." Consumers can visit the R2 and E-Stewards websites to learn more and work with a recycler of their choice.

Manufacturers are doing their part, too. Not only are they collecting their old gadgets, but they are also making it easier for recyclers to break down those gadgets safely. …

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